Showing posts with label Injustice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Injustice. Show all posts

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Vincent Simmons: The Louisiana Whipping Boy

Warning: This article contains racial epithets and explicit details of rape.

May 9, 1977. It's a little after 9:00 pm at the 9-11 gas station in Marksville, Louisiana. 18-years-old Keith Laborde and his twin cousins 14-years-old Sharon and Karen Sanders have stopped for gas.

As Keith pulls his car into the parking lot, he notices a young black man staring at him. Keith gets out of the car, approaches the man and asks him if there is a problem.

The man answers in an aggressive manner. He says he is annoyed because he thinks Keith almost ran him over as he was parking his car. Keith says that he did no such thing and asks the man if he wants to fight. The man replies that, "I don't fight, I shoot."

Despite the disagreement, they shake hands and Keith offers the man a ride, which he accepts.

Little California Road, Marksville
The two girls get into the passenger seat next to Keith. The stranger gets into the rear of the car and directs Keith to a remote location. The girls are beginning to get nervous when the man tells Keith to turn into Little California Road, and orders him to stop the car and turn off the engine.

The man flashes a large handgun, takes the keys and orders Keith to get into the trunk of the car. Turning to the two girls, he tells them to undress. Karen tries to run away but is caught and also locked in the trunk.

The man then vaginally rapes Sharon Sanders. When he's finished he puts her in the trunk with her sister and cousin and drives to a second location. On arrival, Karen Sanders is dragged from the trunk, threatened with a switch-blade and then raped anally and vaginally. The man then drives to a third location with Karen sitting next to him in the passenger seat. Again, he stops the car, rapes her anally and forces her to perform oral sex on him.

Marksville, LA.
The man then gets a tool from the trunk and "pops" one of the tyres. Nobody seems to know why. He then makes Karen write their names down on a piece of paper and tells them he will come after them if they tell anybody what has happened. Finally, they drop the man off at a payphone and drive to their grandparents' house, where they stay the night.

The girls do not tell anybody about the incident until almost two weeks later on May 22, 1977, when Karen Sanders tells her first cousin. The incident is reported to the police on the same day. Sharon and Karen Sanders tell Sheriff "Potch" Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's office that, "...a black man raped us."

While inside the police station, they wrongly identify another black man as their attacker. When asked why they picked this particular man out they say, "All niggers look the same to us."

They provide a basic description. "Black, short hair, 160 lbs, 5-8", age 19-20. Colour of eyes. Not known. They cannot name the alleged rapist because according to their first statements, neither Keith, Sharon nor Karen ever hear the man mention his name.

At 9:00 am the next day, May 23, 1977, Vincent Simmons is walking down Waddil Street in Marksville when a police patrol car stops alongside him. Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde (a relative of Keith Laborde) arrest Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape. They do not have a reliable description, an arrest warrant or a probable cause to justify taking Vincent Simmons into custody.

At the police station, Captain Melvin Villemarette organises a line-up that consists of seven black men and a lone white man, who looks slightly bemused by events.

The photograph (left) shows Vincent Simmons holding the number 4. He is the only man in the line-up that is wearing handcuffs. Keith Laborde and the twins, who are hidden from view behind a glass screen, point at number 4 as the knife wielding black man who raped them at gunpoint on Little California Road two weeks previously. Despite their crass remark that "...all niggers look the same to us," not only do they immediately recognise Vincent Simmons they also remember his name.

There are two versions detailing what happens next. According to a police statement, Vincent Simmons is taken from the line-up, still in handcuffs, to an ID room where he is to be advised of the charges against him.

According to Lieutenant Robert Laborde, Vincent Simmons, despite being handcuffed, scuffles with Captain Melvin Villemarette and manages to get hold of the officer's gun. See Laborde's statement right.

Simmons now points the gun at the officers and shouts, "I ain't going to take this God damn rap." He fires the 9 mm pistol four times; good fortune smiles on the officers because the gun misfires - four times. Lieutenant Laborde draws his .38 Smith & Wesson and shoots Vincent Simmons in the chest just above his heart. The alleged rapist collapses to the floor and is rushed to hospital, still in handcuffs. He is admitted to the intensive care unit.

This shooting is never investigated, Vincent Simmons is not charged with threatening behavior and none of the officers' present are ever required to explain their actions. Strangely, not one of the officers' involved in the shooting take the stand at the subsequent trial.

And Vincent Simmons never makes a statement.

With regard to the incident in the ID room, Simmons tells a completely different story. "I was taken to another section of the jail, still wearing the handcuffs. One of the arresting officers told me to make a statement admitting the crime of rape. I told him I wasn't going to do that because I didn't rape anybody.

I was kicked and beaten by the two officers and then asked if I was ready to talk. When I refused, one of the officers drew his gun and pointed it at me. I heard a shot, then felt a burning in my chest before hitting the floor. I don't remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital."

Barely recovered from his gunshot wound, he now faces trial by jury, held on July 19 and 20, 1977. He is charged with two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Other than the testimony of Keith Laborde, and Sharon and Karen Sanders, there is no physical evidence offered against Vincent Simmons. Not a single fingerprint nor a strand of hair or a fibre of clothing is recovered from the car that Vincent Simmons allegedly drove around for more than an hour.

Sharon Sanders alleges that her underwear was stained with blood and semen. Unfortunately, both girls wash all their clothes, including the underwear, thoroughly - and then wait two weeks to report being violently raped by a black man holding a switch-blade knife and a large gun.

Even in 1977, detailed forensic evidence was available to investigation officers. If Vincent Simmons was in that car and raped those girls, he would have left fingerprints everywhere, not to mention a host of bodily fluids. No forensic evidence was found in the car or it would have been placed before the court.

Indeed, no physical evidence of any sort was offered against Vincent Simmons. For reasons that became obvious at a later date, even the girls' medical reports, conducted by the Coroner of Avoyelles Parish, F.P. Bordelon, were withheld by the prosecution. Apart from the complete lack of any physical evidence, the prosecution also contravene all the rules of court procedure by revealing Vincent Simmons previous criminal convictions. A breach of protocol that should, at the very least, have led to a retrial.

But it didn't. Nothing the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department or Louisiana Justice System did, rightly or wrongly, seems to make much difference to this case. Somebody had to go down for the alleged rape of the two sisters, and Vincent Simmons, who acknowledges he was not a pillar of society, was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With no physical evidence and several witnesses testifying that Vincent Simmons was elsewhere at the time of the alleged rape, there is more than a reasonable doubt as to the perpetrator's identity.

It makes no difference. He is convicted solely on the testimony of the alleged victims. The jury, knowing the severity of the sentence for attempted aggravated rape, is out for less than one hour before returning with a guilty verdict. On July 28, 1977, Vincent Alfred Simmons is sentenced to 50 years on each count, to run consecutively. He will serve 100 years.

There is a question that bothers most people who read about this case. Why did the prosecution withhold the medical reports? Surely, the reports would have been the smoking gun that proved Vincent Simmons' guilt. Not really. It was more than twenty years later in 1997 before Vincent Simmons manages to acquire the medical reports that were hidden from the court.

Had the jury known the content contained in these reports, they would surely have found Vincent Simmons innocent of all charges. Considering both girls say they were violently raped at gunpoint, both vaginally and anally, F.P. Bordelon, the coroner who examined the girls, found no bruises on either of them. He also wrote the following about Sharon Sanders: "There were no bruises on her body. The vaginal examination showed that the hymen was intact and I was unable to insert one examining finger."

Now we know why these medical reports were never used by the prosecution, and, more to the point, why they were never made available to the defence. It really couldn't be any clearer.

When Sharon Sanders was examined on June 10, 1977, she was still a virgin.

The Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department investigation into the rape of Karen and Sharon Sanders transgressed just about every protocol of recognised police procedure, turning it into an organised witch-hunt, which descended upon the head of the first black man they placed in the frame - the unfortunate Vincent Simmons, who just happened to be strolling through Marksville one sunny day.

The District Attorney's Office now joined the police in the deceit by withholding documents from the court and denying Simmons a constructive defence. The documents are eventually released twenty years later under duress, documents that would have created reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury members. This was not an indiscriminate, or thoughtless oversight, it was the kind of oversight engineered behind closed doors, the kind of mistake that requires a special effort by misguided people in positions of power. There are just too many anomalies for it to have been anything other than orchestrated.

Anomalies such as:

(1) The police did not interview one independent witness to validate the statements given by Keith Laborde and Sharon and Karen Sanders, statements that changed significantly when they took the witness stand.

(2) The defence did not conduct any pre-trial investigations. They allowed the prosecution to portray Karen and Sharon Sanders as two little girls who were pure and innocent.

In fact, both girls were suspended from their school, they both used drugs (Karen admitted to carrying dope in her bra) and they stole the petrol they put in the car on the night of May 9, 1977.

(3) Karen Sanders stated that she left her panties behind on Little California Road. They were never recovered. Police records now indicate that neither the car nor the area around Little California Road was ever searched for evidence. Which was why forensic evidence was thin on the ground and the justice system had to rely on the uncorroborated and contradictory evidence of two minors.

(4) For instance. On the witness stand, Karen and Sharon Sanders testified that the assailant waved a gun around and threatened them with a switch-blade. In the initial statement given to police on May 22, 1977, no mention is made of any weapons being brandished by the assailant.

(5) In the initial statement the name of the assailant is not known because Keith Laborde and the two sisters state categorically that names were never mentioned. However, on the witness stand both girls contradict themselves by testifying that the assailant used the name "Simmons" on several occasions. The defence counsel does not raise an objection to the obvious discrepancy between statement and testimony. Several further discrepancies are allowed to stand unchallenged.

(6) Keith Laborde and Karen and Sharon Sanders gave a description of the assailant that was so lacking in detail as to be meaningless - and yet, Vincent Simmons was arrested and then picked out of a line-up by two girls who had just stated they couldn't really describe what the alleged rapist looked like because "...all blacks look the same to us."

To understand exactly what is happening to an innocent man, one has to have seen the parole hearing that Vincent Simmons attended in 1997. You can see it here. It was part of an HBO documentary called "The Farm" filmed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. If slavery was still in operation today this is what it would look like.

Take a good look at the two men below. If they had been wearing pointy hats in KKK white they could not have been more overtly racist. It is unbelievable that these men hold the fate of so many in their grubby hands. If you want to see red-neck racists in action, watch these two jokers discuss a man's future.

Despite Vincent Simmons showing them the line-up picture with the handcuffs and the newly released medical reports, and explaining in great detail what happened when he was shot in the chest by one of the Sheriff's deputies, it took these two morons less than a minute to deny parole and send Vincent Simmons back to his cell for another twenty years.

There was also a token black man on the parole board panel. But having been verbally bullied by Louisiana's answer to Itchy and Scratchy, he had so little of consequence to contribute to the decision that his presence was irrelevant.

There are just so many anomalies about this miscarriage of justice that it is not practical to list them all in this article. The word that keeps popping up is why. Why did the Sheriff's Department not investigate the crime in a professional manner? Why did the legal system deny this man justice in 1977? Why is the State of Louisiana still denying him justice in 2014?

What is it we still haven't found out about this case? What is it that we don't know?

Vincent Simmons never made a statement about the events that occurred on the night of May 9, 1977, in Little California Road, Marksville, Louisiana. He couldn't.

He wasn't there.

Vincent Alfred Simmons

The Louisiana Whipping Boy.

Information and pictures courtesy of:

The Vincent Simmons Project

Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office

Louisiana v Vincent Simmons: Frame up in Avoyelles Parish
by Katja Pumm

Office of the Attorney General 
State of Louisiana

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola.

HBO's The Farm: Life in Angola Prison

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Leonard Lenon Singleton: Two Life sentences for robbery

Everything begins somewhere.

There is always a first moment, a single word or a decisive action that conspires to change one's life. This particular story begins at the United States Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia in 1993. Leonard Singleton, serving in the US Navy, knows exactly what he wants to do with his life; he intends to become a naval officer. With a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a minor in Programming from Langston University, he has every opportunity of achieving his ambition.

The decisive action, his meeting with the devil at the crossroads, happens at a party. Leonard decides he wants to get high. The first moment that is to change the rest of his life arrives; he takes cocaine. What he doesn't realise is that he has an addictive personality, and one hit will never be enough.

His life spirals out of control. Crack cocaine, alcohol, nothing else matters to the addict; his family, his friends, his career, are ignored.

A couple of weeks after the party a routine urine test for the navy, unsurprisingly, comes back positive for drugs. He is discharged. It is a little over two years before Leonard Singleton hits rock bottom. In need of money to feed his addiction, he decides to steal from a convenience store.

Against all rational logic, from the 21st to the 26th of July, 1995, he attempts to steal not just from one, but from six stores in six days. In a drug induced stupor, he has no idea what he is doing.

Leonard Singleton, well educated, from a good family and with no experience in any sort of criminality, is probably the most inept robber in the history of crime. He does not use a weapon of any kind. He does not harm anybody and ends up with $360 dollars he lifts from cash registers. At the age of 29, he is a first time offender.

"I pled guilty to six "unarmed" robberies in the city of Norfolk," he says, describing the days after his arrest. "I admitted to the detectives what I did from the very beginning. I was extremely happy to be caught because I was tired of being under the influence and literally controlled by my addiction to crack cocaine. Having never been in any trouble before, I thought being honest would help."

He was about to find out just how wrong he was.

Charged with six counts of robbery, Leonard Singleton faced circuit judge William Fain Rutherford in a Norfolk court room. Even in the Commonwealth of Virginia, renowned for its off the wall sentencing policy, it is common practice for a first time offender who is addicted to drink and drugs and has not physically hurt anybody, to be treated with a certain amount of leniency.

Norfolk Courthouse
In this case, the state presented Judge Rutherford with a recommendation which called for a sentence of 11 years to 18 years, with a midpoint of 15 years, still harsh for a first offence with mitigating circumstances but not without precedent. Unfortunately, Judge Rutherford said he was not going to follow the guidelines and sentenced Leonard Lenon Singleton to two life sentences plus 100 years.

Yes, you read that right. Leonard Singleton was sentenced to TWO LIFE SENTENCES plus 100 YEARS for unarmed robbery. Which meant he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

A stunned silence descended upon the court room. Leonard Singleton takes up the story. "The Judge didn't even explain why he imposed such a heavy sentence. The 19.2-298.01 code of Virginia says that in any felony case in which the court imposes a sentence which is greater or less than indicated by the discretionary sentencing guidelines, the court must file a written explanation of such departure. They didn't do that."

In fact, Leonard Singleton received the most severe sentence ever imposed on any criminal for a crime of this sort. Murderers and rapists have received less severe sentences. Interestingly, Judge William Fain Rutherford has gone on record saying he would give out "one million years" before leaving the bench. He probably wasn't far short of that total when he was eventually "forced" from the bench because of his extraordinary sentencing practices.

The prospect of life imprisonment does not seem to have broken Leonard Singleton's spirit. "I can sincerely say I did not understand the depths of my addiction to crack cocaine until after my one week crime spree. Every bad thing that has happened in my life happened as a result of my addiction to drugs. I lived a pretty good life prior to drugs. I never saw myself coming to prison."

Since being incarcerated, he has enrolled in every single class that each institution had to offer where substance abuse was concerned. "I've signed up for any class that would help me think differently about the direction of my life. I've also had the opportunity to share my life story with so many young people with the hope that they would not return to prison."

In Leonard Singleton's entire 18 years of incarceration he has never been written up for any infraction and every one of his annual reviews include the word "Exemplary." All he wants is a second chance to do something positive with his life.

Is that too much to ask?

Leonard Lenon Singleton 2013

Information and pictures courtesy:

Leonard Lenon Singleton

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Travion Blount: 118 years for robbery

The party is in full swing at the house in Glenwood Park, Norfolk, Virginia. It is the evening of September 23, 2006, and inside the two-storey house, a group of teens are drinking, smoking marijuana and playing video games. There is no loud music playing, no shouting, no raucous horseplay, in fact the atmosphere inside the house is so quiet, relaxed and convivial, none of the immediate neighbours even know a party is in progress.

A knock on the front door changes all that. Morris Downing and David Nichols both 18, and Travion Blount 15, push their way into the house. Downing and Blount pull out guns: Downing heads to the kitchen, Blount to the bedroom where he finds two terrified girls. Blount robs the girls of their purses and belongings at gunpoint and then makes his way to the kitchen. David Nichols, the only one of the intruders not carrying a weapon, tells the girls they can't leave and locks them in the bedroom.

Travion Blount
By the time Blount reaches the kitchen, Downing has rounded up several of the teens and relieved them of their phones, money and any other valuables they were carrying. Blount points his gun at a seventeen-year-old boy and tells him to empty his pockets. He takes $60, and the boy's car and house keys.

The three intruders then spread out to search for more victims. In an upstairs room Downing finds four teens playing video games. He orders them to stand up and empty their pockets. One of the boys is too slow and fumbles his wallet and Downing pistols whips him, cutting his scalp.

One of the girls who had claimed to be sick and was allowed to go to the bathroom, escapes through a window, runs to a neighbour's house and the police are alerted. The three robbers, realising that one of the victims has escaped, flee the scene before the police arrive. Witnesses later testified that the robbery lasted less than 20 minutes.

Morris Downing
Nichols and Blount, having been recognised by several of the victims, are arrested by police within a week. Morris Downing is arrested shortly after and they are charged with armed robbery. All three are offered a deal. It's a simple choice; plead guilty to fewer charges and receive an 18-year sentence.

Nichols and Downing, both 18-years-old and legally adults, accept the plea bargain and plead guilty to fewer charges. Nichols receives a sentence of 10 years, Downing 13 years. "It's dumb to fight something you can't win," Downing later says, "We were plainly guilty."

Travion Blount disagrees with his co-defendants. He thinks 18 years is too much. "I was only 17 and 18 years in prison seemed like a lifetime."

Ignoring advice from his attorney, his mother and even his co-defendant, Morris Downing, Blount decides to go to trial and pleads not guilty. He thinks he is innocent of some charges and is willing to fight. His defence attorney, John Coggeshall says, "I had more heart to heart talks with Travion than any other client. Everybody could see the train coming. Everybody. Except him."

Travion Blount refuses Plea Bargain
At the opening of the trial the judge glances at Travion Blount and says, "He looks young."

"He is 17," answers the defence attorney.

Fifty-three felony charges are read out, the most serious being illegal use of a firearm, armed robbery and abduction. Blount murmurs the words 'not guilty' to each charge. He says little else during the rest of the three day trial. More than a dozen witnesses, including several of the victims, a detective and Blount's two co-defendants, testify against him. The jury hears about the armed robbery at the house party. They hear how the three defendants collected cash, personal belongings and drugs from the victims at gunpoint. No shots are fired, but one person was struck on the head by one of Blount's co-defendants. The jury return after a couple of hours deliberation. They present a stack of forms to the judge. Travion Blount is found guilty on 49 of the 53 charges.

The judge tells Blount to return to courtroom 7 for sentencing in four months.

The sentence
On March 12, 2008, the judge tells Blount that gun convictions come with set punishments under Virginian law.

He steps through the weapons charges, one by one. The count adds up to 118 years.

The judge then addresses the remaining 25 felony convictions. For the crimes against the victims, all juveniles, Blount receives six life sentences. He will die in prison.

Travion Blount received the harshest punishment delivered to any American teenager for a crime not involving murder. And it's at this point that the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice fumbled the ball. Six life sentences and 118 years for robbery, no matter how they try to spin it, is plainly ludicrous and without doubt, an injustice.

Had the sentence been 25 years without parole, still harsh, but sending out a clear message to any would-be gang bangers, Blount would have disappeared into the prison system and would not have been eligible for release until he was 42. His gang banging days would have been over.

It would appear that the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice dished out six life sentences and 118 years not just for the actual crimes committed by Travion Blount, but for crimes they thought he might commit at some time in the future. (See the film Minority Report.) Was this flawed thinking or did they have a point? Just what crimes was Travion Blount capable of committing?   

He was described by his family as being a shy, but happy boy. That description was to change at a very early age. Despite a relatively stable home life, he regularly skipped school and began to get into trouble at the age of 9.

He joined a gang when he was 11 years old and began to acquire a lengthy criminal record, which included convictions for unauthorised use of a vehicle, robbery, attempted robbery and malicious wounding on four separate occasions.

If Blount was convicted of malicious wounding and was involved in armed robbery aged just 15, it is reasonable to suggest that he would have probably gone on to attempt ever more violent crimes, including murder. Point guns at enough people and eventually you'll hit the target. It's just a question of how many.

But redemption is available to everybody, even in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Travion Blount was sent to Wallens Ridge State prison near the Tennessee line. His defence attorney, John Coggeshall, says he struggled to get his client to speak or show emotion during the preparation of the case. Blount listened politely, but asked few questions and offered little insight into his life.

According to his mother, Angela, her son has changed. He has accepted responsibility for his role in the robbery and is no longer interested in gang culture. He regrets his decision to go to trial and says, "Who would have thought I would get six life sentences?"

Coggeshall is still acting for Blount and spoke to him in June 2013. He says it was the deepest conversation he'd had with his client for several years. "He was a little boy who wouldn't listen to anybody back then. Now he wants access to prison education programs. He wants to learn and grow. Now 23 years of age, he's more astute, worldly and perceptive."

Of course, it is to be expected that his family and attorney would be supportive. But is Travion Blount as remorseful, astute and perceptive as his family and attorney would have you believe?

Click to read full size
The letter (picture left) written by Blount to his father is quite revealing. In it Blount states that he is "in the hole" because "I got caught carrying a knife."

So he is not, apparently, astute enough to avoid doing time in solitary confinement for carrying a weapon. And how likely is it that he would have used that weapon on a fellow inmate or even a prison officer? Everybody deserves a second chance; some people just seem incapable of accepting it.

The ludicrous 118 year, six life sentences, given to Travion Blount turned a potentially violent criminal into a victim. And surely that's not what the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice intended.

Is it?

Update: January 20, 2014  

Before leaving office last week, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell commuted Travion Blount's sentence of six life terms plus 118 years, to 40 years. The original sentence survived two appeals: first in Virginia's Court of Appeals, and then in the Virginia Supreme Court. According to a statement by his secretary to the Virginian Pilot, Bob McDonnell considered the 40-year sentence a "just punishment."

But for Blount, his family, and his lawyer, John Coggeshall, the commutation that was announced is not a victory for justice. Coggeshall says, “On any measure, it's a positive step. But that's all it is, a first step,” The lawyer described how according to McDonnell's “conditional pardon,” Blount will live the next four decades in a maximum-security prison, nearly 10 hours away from his family. But Coggeshall says his fight for a fairer sentence for his client is not over.

Information and Pictures courtesy:

The Virginian Pilot

The Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Criminal Justice

The Daily Mail


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

James Harry Reyos: Still fighting for justice

Sand and Sage Motel, Odessa TX.
On the evening of December 21, 1981, a polite, middle aged man enters the Sand and Sage Motel, Odessa, Texas, and registers for just one night. He uses an assumed name and a fake address and license plate number, deceptions that would later hinder police trying to discover the man's true identity. 

He is given the key to room 126.

The next morning, when a cleaning woman enters room 126, she discovers a horrifying scene. Blood stains cover the walls and floor, the phone has been yanked violently from the wall and smashed, the headboard on the bed has been splintered, the mattress, bloodied and torn, has been thrown to the floor. Among the debris lies a man's naked body, his hands tied securely behind his back. He has been beaten so hard his heart has stopped. According to the pathologist report, the man died some time before midnight.

The dead man was later identified as Father Patrick Ryan, a catholic priest.

James Harry Reyos 1995
The above paragraphs are taken from the article entitled Anatomy of Murder which was first published on this site in January 2011, and can be found here.  If you are unaware of the details in this case it's worth taking the time to read the original article before continuing.

James Harry Reyos, a full blooded native American, was convicted and served more than twenty years behind bars, and is still under licence for a murder he did not commit. In fact, it would be more relevant to say COULD NOT have committed, as he had the perfect alibi. Not only was he 200 miles away from the scene of the crime, he also had a timed and dated traffic citation, and a series of timed and dated receipts for items he had bought around the time the murder took place. In order to have committed the murder Reyos would have to drive from Roswell, New Mexico to the Sand and Sage motel in Odessa, Texas at an average speed of 111 mile per hour. He would have to achieve that in a battered old truck driving on unlit roads. That is simply not possible.

James Harry Reyos
Some time after the article was published, James Harry Reyos made contact to thank me for writing about his case. I took the opportunity to ask him a number of questions, which he answered openly and at length.

Rob Hamilton: "Where you in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

JHR: "I was NEVER at the crime scene (in room 126 at the Sand and Sage motel, in Odessa, TX). I was actually 200 miles away in Roswell, New Mexico. Eyewitness testimony and documentation, gasoline purchase receipts, tire repair receipts, wrecker service receipts - and most importantly - a New Mexico State Police traffic citation confirms my location in New Mexico. 

The police questioned me because I had left my photo album at the priest's rectory on Sunday, December 20, 1981. I had a copy of my high school diploma in it, with pictures of me in the album too."

(Reyos had  reluctantly entered into a homosexual relationship with Father Ryan prior to the priest's murder. He only became aware of the priest's murder when he returned to Denver City on December 26, 1981 and was questioned by police. It was almost a year later, on November 18, 1982, high on alcohol and sedatives, that Reyos stumbled to a pay phone and called the police. He spoke to Albuquerque 911 dispatcher, Dolly Wood, who later told a court: "And so I asked him what it was about and he said, 'The killing of a catholic priest in Odessa, Texas.' And I asked him who he was and he replied, 'You are talking to the killer.)

RH: "You eventually confessed to this crime. Why?"

JHR: "There were also two other confessors to Father Ryan's murder. Both were dubbed mental patients and were dismissed as suspects. I was a suspect from the beginning because I was last seen with Father Ryan prior to the crime, even seen with him the morning of the crime. However, we departed in Hobbs, New Mexico, that morning, December 21, 1981.

Click to read full story.
After I made that confession - FALSE confession - to the 911 operator in Albuquerque, I became in the police eyes, the prime suspect, the guilty person. Even though the evidence proved my innocence, the police authorities thought they had the real killer. I believe they knew that I was not responsible for the crime, but they didn't want a cold case on their hands. The crime went unsolved from Monday, December 21, 1981 to November 19, 1982, when I made that false confession in Albuquerque.

I first learned of Father Ryan's murder on December 26, 1981, when I returned to Denver City and was first questioned by police. It is still emotionally painful, after 32 years, for me to think back to that night at Father Ryan's rectory when he sexually approached me. Tremendous guilt and SHAME weighed upon me after it happened. I never thought that a priest, preacher, minister - a man of GOD - would do that to a person. I was raised to always respect the church, the clergy.

Father Patrick Ryan
Prior to 1983 I lived in the closet, never wanting to disclose my homosexuality, for fear of being abandoned by my friends and, especially, by my family. I was so afraid of that happening. For eleven months, after learning of Father Ryan's murder, a lot was on my mind. First, I could not believe that Father - FATHER! - Ryan could do that to me. Second, I wished I had never gone to ask him to take me to Hobbs, New Mexico, that Monday morning to get my truck. Many times I think to myself, 'if only I had not gone to see him that morning, he would still be alive.' I felt indirectly responsible for his death. Third, I could not believe, after being first questioned, that the police authorities thought I had committed the murder.

Of course I DID NOT commit the murder and COULD NOT have committed it. I remember after the first interrogation in Denver City, me going back to my apartment, sitting
James harry Reyos
down on the couch, crying my heart out - I couldn't believe that father John had been murdered. (That's how he introduced himself to me on that Sunday, December 6, 1981, when I first met him while hitchhiking. I didn't find out his real name - Father Patrick Ryan - until the day of the funeral when I heard it on the TV news. Police authorities never told me his real name either, when I was first questioned.); and I hoped that nobody would find out about my homosexuality.

Even as a child and then as a teenager, I was afraid to expose my homosexuality. I always struggled with my sexuality, but meeting Father Ryan and what transpired, made me even more confused about my sexuality, thus resulting in my confession."

(Reyos made the false confession to police while under great emotional distress. The drink, the drugs and the mental turmoil should have alerted the police to his disturbed state of mind. If the confession had been balanced against the lack of any evidence and the watertight alibi, it would have been dismissed out of hand. The fact that it wasn't says more about the police than it does about Reyos.)

RH: "It is now known that the police deliberately destroyed evidence. Why did they do that?"

To Protect and Serve
JHR: "The forensic evidence (biological: blood, hair, saliva, semen) NEVER matched mine. I believe they destroyed evidence so that later down the road, I will not be able to utilize DNA to prove my innocence. DNA in the early 80's was in its infancy. I also believe that the hierarchy in the Catholic church had something to do with my conviction. I believe the church pressured police authorities to solve the case, so that the issue of Father Ryan's homosexuality would not be further exposed. In the early 1980's catholic priest molestations were rarely heard of. They wanted to keep it that way. Nowadays, it's completely out in the open."

(In case you think Reyos is drifting into the fictional world of Dan Brown's religious conspiracies, information has emerged which links Father Ryan's murder to the murders of three other Catholic priests and involves certain church officials. The full story of the Catholic church and its connection to the James Harry Reyos case will be told in a future article.)

RH: "Considering the lack of evidence against you, how did the court arrive at a guilty verdict?"

JHR: "My defence attorneys' were confident, just like I was, that the evidence PROVED my innocence and that I would be found not guilty. Even the former prosecuting attorney now believes he helped convict an innocent man. I don't know how the jury deliberated, what evidence they considered, what evidence they rejected, (obviously all the evidence that PROVED my innocence!) I believe (let's not be naive about racial bias here in the U.S.A.) that some of the jurors had that notion in mind.

Some people in society today still believe that people don't confess to crimes they didn't commit. That's farthest from the truth. Just look at some of the "exoneration" cases where confession was an issue. The jury in my case, I believe, was pressured into rendering a guilty verdict, and they definitely reached the wrong verdict!"

RH: "Is there any more information you can give me about the night in question?"

JHR: "Like I said, I was never at the crime scene that night, so I can't shed any details about it. One thing that still baffles me to this day, is that John Doe in Boise, Idaho.  About that guy who walked into that Catholic church wanting to make a confession about a murder of a Catholic priest in Texas.  WHO is he?  Despite his picture of him laying on the floor, his fingerprints being available, he still remains unidentified. Had my defense attorneys know about this John Doe during, or prior to, trial, I believe his identity would have been established, since the forensic evidence (especially the fingerprints) taken from the motel room would have been available for comparison.  The John Doe did not arise until over ten years later, in 1991. The TV program "A Current Affair" produced and aired a story on my case in the early 90s.

James Harry Reyos still under licence
When it was broadcast, Frank Richardson, the retired Boise police detective saw the program and contacted my trial attorneys about this John Doe. Mr. Richardson had the John Doe's fingerprints. When my trial attorneys were contacted with this information along with Howard Swindle (DALLAS MORNING NEWS reporter) wanted to go to the Odessa Police to compare the John Doe's fingerprints with those taken from the motel. When they got to the police station for fingerprint comparison they were told that all the forensic evidence had been destroyed. It's strange that it was destroyed right at the time when the John Doe's prints were available. I still feel that in some way the police authorities were tipped-off as to the new evidence that could clear me. In less than two weeks from now will mark 32 years ago that the crime happened. As far as I am concerned, it still goes UNSOLVED because I DID NOT commit the crime - I DID NOT KILL FATHER PATRICK RYAN!"

(The story James refers to above regarding the man who walked into a church in Boise, Idaho and committed suicide is also related to the murder of the three priests' mentioned in a previous paragraph and will be told in another article.)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Ronald L Sanford: Beyond redemption?

If you have no idea what this is all about, read the first posting about Ronald Sanford HERE. The second updated posting containing more details about the circumstances can be read HERE.

 If you are one of the 192,000 people who have read the two previous postings, or one of the two thousand five hundred people who sent emails and placed heart felt comments on each of the postings, have you considered what it was about Ronald Sanford's two interviews with Sir Trevor McDonald that made you feel the way you did?

One person commented that he was so overwhelmed and dismayed by this case, that he thought, stupidly, he would probably be the only one watching who had any empathy for Ronald Sanford.

Ronald Sanford today.
He was wrong. Many, many people empathized, and the question is, why? What was it about Ronald Sanford that made you say, 'This is not right. This is not justice.'  Firstly, he doesn't deny his crime. He states clearly that he 'pushed' into the elderly sisters' house and committed a double homicide. We should never forget that this was a brutal crime committed against two elderly ladies.

However, what Ronald Sanford does not say is that he was accompanied by Sean Rowe, aged 15, who later plea bargained with police and served 2 years and 2 days for 'assisting a robbery.' At no time during either interview did Ronald Sanford deny his guilt. But if you've read the other posting you'll know that it's quite possible he didn't strike the fatal blows that killed the elderly ladies. He is serving 170 years purely on the testimony of Sean Rowe, who simply said to police, 'I didn't do it.'

Ronald Sanford in custody aged 14
Secondly, Ronald Sanford was just 13 years old when he was involved in this crime. Nobody can say for sure who struck the fatal blows that killed the two elderly sisters, it may well have been Ronald Sanford, we just don't know, but in the United kingdom, that's known as having a reasonable doubt.

Look at the picture on the left and ask yourself how much punishment should be inflicted on a boy aged 13 (15 when he was sentenced) before we feel justice has been served. If the judge had allowed his convictions to run concurrently instead of consecutively, Ronald Sanford would have served a 50 year sentence for murder. With good behaviour he would have served 21 years and been released in 2010. How much punishment is enough for a crime committed by a boy barely into his teens? 20 years, 50 years, 170 years?

Written on the wall of Ronald Sanford's cell.
Thirdly, either Ronald Sanford is the world's greatest actor, or he really is a polite, genial and highly intelligent man. Most people believe he is the latter.  Somebody said, 'Give me the child and I will show you the man'.  Bitter and twisted psychotic killers do not write optimistic quotes on the walls of their cells.

And yet, people are still asking what it was that made Ronald Sanford different from the other inmates interviewed by Sir Trevor. Here are just three who you would not want to run into. They will not be named.

Do you remember this inmate. He's on death row for murdering a policeman during a robbery that went wrong.

Mid twenties, a career criminal who knew exactly what he was doing. He said, 'I'm the kinda guy that deserves to be in prison. If I'm fired from my job and I can't get a job, I'll get a gun and pay my bills and not think anything of it at all.'

He says it himself. He chose his career path and if you happen to stand in his way, he'll shoot you. Prison was made for this kind of guy.

What about the inmate pictured right. Did you feel any empathy for his situation? Let me remind you exactly what he said.

This man said, 'When I come at you, I wasn't going to stick you an inch, I was going to run you all the way through.' He's a cold blooded murderer and yet he seems to have more freedom than Ronald Sanford. I'm really struggling to understand the American Justice System.

And then, of course, there was this man. Probably the most hated man in the prison. In his own words he entered a house and decided to rape the young woman inside. He then slit the throats of the woman and her four year old child.

This man was in his mid twenties when he committed the crime and admits the best place for him is prison.  Would anybody disagree with him?

Sanford Ronald L 875353 aged 15
All of these men pictured above were adults who knew exactly what they were doing and what the penalties were. Serving prison time is part of their life, a consequence to their actions they never believed would happen.
If you are still wondering why you feel empathy for Ronald Sanford and not the other inmates, it has to be because something does not feel right about the circumstances and length of sentence meted out to a boy in his early teens. Yes, of course he deserved to be punished, but is there no rehabilitation for a man who appears to bear no grudges?

Ronald Sanford's cell.
Despite the efforts of the writers' on this blog and the Facebook campaign the answer is probably no. Not only is there no chance of rehabilitation, there is little or no chance that Ronald Sanford will live long enough to face a parole board.

The Indiana Department of Correction have been asked several questions and every one of them has been stonewalled.

These pictures were added to the second posting but we make no excuses for publishing them again. Click on the pictures above and below to see just how small Ronald Sanford's cell is. (The man in the picture is Sir Trevor McDonald whose ITV program highlighted this story.)

If you kept an animal in a space this size the R.S.P.C.A. would file a court order against you for cruelty.

It has been said once in a previous posting, but it has to be said again, if the Department of Correction is going to lock a man up for a hundred years, for goodness sake, give him a decent cell to live in.

As highlighted above, not everybody deserves a second chance. Some of the inmates serving time in Indiana State Prison are beyond redemption. Ronald Sanford, having spent 24 of his 39 years locked down in a cell 6ft x 8ft, is not one of those inmates. The authorities still have time to reconsider his case.

Written on the wall of Ronald Sanford's cell.

Information and pictures courtesy:

ITV's 'Inside death Row' with Trevor McDonald.

The Indianapolis Recorder