Dallas Texas Police Arrest And Jail Innocent Woman For Refilling Legal Prescription

May 6, 2012

DALLAS, TEXAS – Anne Lenhart never thought filling a prescription at CVS Pharmacy in Dallas could land her in jail.

The avid yoga practicer raised more $20,000 for Off the Mat, Into the World Global Seva Challenge. OTM is an organization that was founded by Seane Corn, Hali Kouri, and Suzanne Sterling as a way to take the ideas of yoga and translate them into action.

This year OTM was heading to Haiti for a service mission in which they bought and installed lights, worked at Haiti’s tent cities and various other projects.

On their off time, Lenhart and her group headed the Haitian city of Jacmel, a mountainous region with waterfalls and beautiful natural pools.

That’s where the trouble began. Lenhart had waded in the water beneath the waterfall, then climbed up some 30 feet onto a cliff overlooking the water.

“I decided I was ready to come down off the waterfall and it was then that I slipped and I hit an outcropping about 10 feet down and then from there fall another 20 feet into the water,” Lenhart said. The water saved her life but she shattered her kneecap on the way down.

With the help of several men, Lenhart climbed out of the area and after a 3 1/2 hour trip to the nearest hospital in Port-Au-Prince, she underwent reconstructive surgery with no general anesthesia.

A week later she was flown back to the U.S., still in deep pain, and admitted into Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.

“They gave me a pretty high, heavy duty narcotic, Norco, as a painkiller going forward and I had used that up. It had been a month and I had called for my refill,” Lenhart said.

The pharmacy called Lenhart to ask her exactly what time she would be in pick up her prescription. She thought it was odd, but told the pharmacy what time she would be there.

Still on crutches and unable to drive, a friend of Lenhart’s, drove her to a CVS Pharmacy in Oak Cliff.

She wasn’t able to pick up her prescription because a police officer arrived to pick her up.

“He was like ‘we need to go outside,’” she said. “I was on crutches and I had a permanent IV line in my arm. I had a big leg brace. I asked him if it was necessary and he said yes and he rather policingly escorted me out the front door and into the back of a waiting patrol car.”

Lenhart was so stunned, she didn’t think to ask the officer questions. The officer explained to her what was going on.

“He said, ‘Well we believe that you have forged your pain pill prescription and we are calling your doctor now. But I’ve worked with this pharmacist a number of times and he’s never made a mistake,” Lenhart said.

The officer then took her the Dallas County jail, where she remained overnight. After she was released on bond, she was charged with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, a felony.

“I couldn’t go back to work until HR had received the paperwork that this was a mistake from my attorney,” she said.

Dallas police later dropped the charges after speaking with Lenhart’s doctor. The Dallas Police Department declined to talk to CBS11 about Lenhart’s arrest.

Now she is suing CVS Pharmacy for False Imprisonment, Defamation and more. Her attorney, Jeff Benton, said her arrest could have been prevented had proper procedures been followed.

“Every doctor that prescribes a narcotic had a DEA number that’s unique to them and if that is cross referenced and the correct doctor is contacted then I don’t imagine that this type of thing would happen,” Benton said. “We suspect the wrong doctor was contacted because they didn’t cross reference the DEA number.”

Everyday pharmacies fill millions of prescriptions for controlled substances. Those drugs are monitored by the DEA.

Lenhart’s doctor confirmed in an affidavit that he wrote the prescription for her and that he never received a call from CVS asking to confirm the prescription. Benton thinks the pharmacy may have called the wrong physician.

A representative from CVS Pharmacy said, “We are investigating how this unfortunate incident occurred and we are working to resolve the matter with Ms. Lenhart and her attorney. As this involves pending litigation, we are unable to provide additional comments at this time.”

“I would love to think that they would actually write me a letter that says ‘I am sorry that this happened to you,’” Lenhart said.

But even more than an apology, Lenhart wants to make sure that this never happens to another patient in pain.

“I don’t want somebody else. I don’t want somebody who I love to go there and get arrested,” she said.

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Innocent Man Abandoned In Holding Cell For 5 Days By DEA In Kearny Mesa California Without Water, Food, Or Toilet Had To Drink His Own Urine To Survive

May 2, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The Drug Enforcement Administration issued an apology Wednesday to a California student who was picked up during a drug raid and left in a holding cell for several days without food, water or access to a toilet.

DEA San Diego Acting Special Agent-In-Charge William R. Sherman said in a statement that he was troubled by the treatment of Daniel Chong and extended his “deepest apologies” to him.

The agency is investigating how its agents forgot about Chong.

Chong, 23, was never arrested, was not going to be charged with a crime and should have been released, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the DEA case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Chong told U-T San Diego that he drank his own urine to survive and that he bit into his glasses to break them and tried to use a shard to scratch “Sorry Mom” into his arm.

The engineering student at University of California, San Diego, was swept up as one of nine suspects in an April 21 drug raid that netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons.

Chong said DEA agents told him he would be released. One agent even promised to drive him home from the DEA field office in Kearny Mesa, he said.

Instead, he was returned to a holding cell to await release. He also said the lights went off at one point and stayed off for several days.

Sherman says the event is not indicative of the high standards to which he holds his employees. He says he has personally ordered an extensive review of his office’s policies and procedures.

Chong said he could hear the muffled voices of agents outside his windowless cell and the sound of the door of the next cell being opened and closed. He kicked and screamed as loud as he could. His cries for help went unheard.

“I had to recycle my own urine,” he said. “I had to do what I had to do to survive.”

When he was found on April 25, he was taken to a hospital and treated for cramps, dehydration and a perforated lung — the result of ingesting some of the broken glass.

“When they opened the door, one of them said: ‘Here’s the water you’ve been asking for,’” Chong said. “But I was pretty out of it at the time.”

Chong also ingested a white powder DEA agents said was left in the cell accidentally and later identified as methamphetamine. He described having hallucinations, saying: “I was completely insane.”

Chong’s attorney, Eugene Iredale, said he plans to file a claim against the federal government and, if it is denied, he will proceed with filing a federal lawsuit.

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Federal “Lying” Statute A Catch-All That Even Insnares The Innocent

April 11, 2012

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA – When federal prosecutors can’t muster enough evidence to bring charges against a person suspected of a crime, they can still use a controversial law to get a conviction anyway: They charge the person with lying.

The law against lying—known in legal circles simply as “1001”—makes it a crime to knowingly make a material false statement in matters of federal jurisdiction. Critics across the political spectrum argue that 1001, a widely used statute in the federal criminal code, is open to abuse. It is charged hundreds of times a year, according to court records and interviews with lawyers and legal scholars.

Thanks to a far-reaching federal statute, marine biologist and orca expert Nancy Black is facing a potential 20-year prison sentence for her work. Clare Major reports from Monterey, Calif.

Nancy Black, a marine biologist and operator of whale-watching boats, recently became ensnared by 1001. When one of her boat captains whistled at a humpback whale that approached the boat a few years ago, regulators investigated whether the incident constituted harassment of a whale, which is illegal.

This past January, Ms. Black was charged in the case—not with whale harassment, but with lying about the incident. She also faces a charge of illegally altering a video of the whale encounter, as well as unrelated allegations involving whale blubber. Together, the charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

She denies all wrongdoing, including lying. “I wasn’t charged with anything about the dealings with the humpback,” says Ms. Black, 49 years old. “So why would they charge me with lying about it? It makes no sense.”

The law against lying, officially Title 18, section 1001 of the United States Code, is “a bread-and-butter” statute for Justice Department prosecutors, says Thomas O’Brien, the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. The law’s breadth makes it useful for nabbing wrongdoers, particularly in cases where suspected crimes are complex and tough to prove, he says.

For instance, supporters of 1001 say, the law can be useful in financial or accounting-fraud cases where catching a suspect in a lie that could carry a prison sentence can be a powerful tool for enlisting that person’s cooperation in unraveling the broader crime.

As the U.S. federal criminal code has grown increasingly large and complicated, critics from the left and right alike argue it is becoming too easy for Americans to unwittingly commit crimes.

Nobody argues that telling a falsehood to Uncle Sam is either wise or admirable, but some say 1001 is overly broad. “There is no statute out there that’s more pernicious,” says Stephen Saltzburg, a former senior Justice Department official and now a law professor at George Washington University.

He says the law is so vague that harmless misstatements can be turned into federal felonies. A person can be charged even if the lie didn’t really fool anyone, or if the person didn’t know the criminal consequences of fibbing, some critics point out.

By contrast, Mr. O’Brien says that in his experience local authorities rarely prosecute someone for lying, and when they do it is generally treated as a misdemeanor

While 1001 helps nab guilty parties, it can also be a trap “for innocent people to fall into,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas), in an interview. Rep. Gohmert, a critic of the federal justice system’s expansion, said he hopes to put new limits on the statute in a criminal-reform bill pending in the House.

Statute 1001’s precursor, the False Claims Act of 1863, had a relatively narrow focus: It was intended to punish contractors and suppliers who were defrauding the government during the Civil War.

Over the next 135 years, Congress significantly increased the reach of federal law regarding falsehoods. By 1998, courts around the country carved out an exception—known as the “exculpatory no”—aimed at blocking prosecution of a person who denied (falsely) being involved in wrongdoing. The exception was at least partly inspired by the Constitution’s protection against self-incrimination.

But in 1998, the Supreme Court threw out the exculpatory no, saying the law as written by Congress didn’t allow for an exception. While some false-statement prosecutions might seem “harsh,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “courts may not create their own limitations on legislation, no matter how alluring the policy arguments for doing so.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a separate opinion, worried about “the extraordinary authority Congress, perhaps unwittingly, has conferred on prosecutors to manufacture crimes” out of false statements.

In February, the Washington Legal Foundation, a pro-business group, asked the Supreme Court to take a new look at statute 1001 in the case of an Idaho farmer, Cory King, who was convicted federally of lying to a state livestock inspector about where a valve on the property sent some water. Mr. King allegedly said the valve routed the water to the sprinkler system when in fact it sent water to a well, where it was later used for irrigation. The state didn’t pursue criminal charges, opting for a fine.

At issue: Since Mr. King’s statement was made to a state official—someone with no connection to the federal government, the WLF says in a court filing—should the federal law against lying apply? Letting the conviction stand “would strip the statute of virtually all jurisdictional limitations,” the brief says.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. Justice Department court filings argue that lying to the state inspector interfered with enforcement of federal drinking-water laws. The false statement “need not be made directly” to the federal government, said one Justice Department court filing.

In an interview, Mr. King maintained he didn’t give a false statement. He is finished with his probation.

Ms. Black, the marine biologist, says she has been caught for more than five years in “a nightmare” that began with the whistling incident involving her whale-watching boats.

An animal lover, she lives with two cats, three lizards, four parakeets and four dogs, including a 13-year-old retriever named Andy who is a constant companion. Ms. Black estimates Andy has “seen more killer whales than any dog on the planet.”

Since her childhood, she says, killer whales held a particular fascination. She obtained a master’s degree in marine sciences and has been researching killer whales in this seaside community since the mid-1980s.

Monterey Bay is on the annual migratory and feeding paths for blue, humpback and gray whales, making it “one of the best places in the world to watch whales,” she says. It is also a magnet for killer whales, which feed on the calves of gray whales accompanying their mothers from their birthplace off the coast of Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska.

Ms. Black has co-authored scientific papers and helped catalog the identities of hundreds of killer whales based on their skin markings. “Nancy is the guru of killer whales in Monterey Bay,” says Ken Balcomb, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash. To finance her work, she operates two whale-watching boats for tourists.

The trouble began in October 2005. During a whale-watching trip, a humpback whale approached one of her boats. The captain began whistling, hoping the noise might keep the creature from leaving, according to Ms. Black. A crewman on her other boat, which Ms. Black was captaining nearby, also urged passengers to make noise, she says. (Neither the captain nor the crewman faces charges.)

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 outlaws “harassment” of whales that could disrupt their behavioral patterns or injure them. Ms. Black says she doesn’t believe the whistling, or the ships’ closeness to the whales, violated the rules, particularly since the creature had approached on its own.

Ms. Black says she considered the whistling “unprofessional” and told her employees not to do it again. She says the then-wife of her boat captain then went to the government to find out if there was anything wrong with whistling on the boat. The now former captain declined to comment. His ex-wife couldn’t be reached for comment.

Several days later, Ms. Black says, a federal official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—a Commerce Department agency with duties ranging from weather forecasting to fisheries management—made an informal request (as opposed to a subpoena) for her to provide video of the whistling incident. She provided a video edited to show the captain’s whistling, she says, because that is what she thought the investigator wanted to see. She didn’t include video of the other crew member allegedly egging on passengers to make noise.

The indictment alleges Ms. Black altered the video “with the intent to impede” investigation of the whale incident and then falsely told authorities the video was “the original recording, when that recording had in fact been altered.” She acknowledges editing the video and denies that it was altered to impede the probe. In interviews, she denied lying about the video and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

She says she gave the edited video to two officials, including a NOAA investigator, and went through the video with them. A NOAA spokesman declined to comment on Ms. Black’s case.

About a year later, on a morning in November 2006, more than a dozen federal agents, led by a NOAA inspector, entered her house with a search warrant and took away her files, photos and computers, she says. “It was the most traumatic thing that ever happened to me.”

In unrelated cases, NOAA has been criticized for some of its investigative tactics in recent years. A 2010 report by the Commerce Department’s inspector general recommended that NOAA “reassess” the staffing of its investigative branch, where some 90% of agents were criminal investigators although most of the agency’s work involved civil regulatory matters.

The inspector general’s report said it examined complaints from dozens of fishermen. Some complaints said that NOAA investigators used “overly aggressive and inappropriate techniques” that made them “feel as though they are being treated like criminals for noncriminal issues,” the report said.

A NOAA spokeswoman said the agency has modified its investigative practices and staffing. Among other things, the agency has put a freeze on hiring criminal investigators and has instituted higher-level reviews of charging decisions.

Over the five-year period since the raid on Ms. Black’s home, federal investigators have questioned friends and colleagues, she and her friends say, and many of them became reluctant to deal with her. She says the raid was so traumatic to her that she sometimes gets fearful when a stranger’s car parks in front of her house. She says she has paid more than $100,000 in legal fees so far.

“I’m just a normal person, doing the thing I love,” says Ms. Black. “How could this happen to me?”

Ms. Black’s attorney, Lawrence Biegel, says prosecutors threatened that if his client didn’t plead guilty to one or more misdeeds, she would face a range of charges. The indictment, filed in January, contains four criminal counts including illegal alteration of records resulting from editing the video. The false-statements charge comes from allegedly lying about the video’s completeness.

The indictment includes a paragraph referencing a 12-count indictment, which the Justice Department spokesman said was mistakenly pasted in from a document unrelated to Ms. Black’s case.

Ms. Black says she was never asked about the completeness of the video and if she had known the officials wanted an unedited copy, she would have provided one.

Her lawyer, Mr. Biegel, says authorities eventually obtained the entire video from him after Ms. Black informed officials that, even after removing records from her home, they didn’t have the complete video. He notes that despite years of investigation, the government didn’t find evidence to charge Ms. Black with wrongdoing during that 2005 whale-watching trip.

The two other counts in the indictment involve allegations that Ms. Black illegally fed or attempted to feed killer whales in the wild, once in April 2004 and once in April 2005. Each of those counts carries a potential one-year sentence.

The government court filings don’t provide details of the alleged wrongdoing in any of the counts.

Ms. Black says those incidents involved using an underwater camera to record killer whales feeding on a gray whale they had just killed. Pieces of blubber from the dead whale were floating on the water, she says, so to better record the event, she cut a hole through one piece of blubber in the water and put a rope through the hole to stabilize the blubber while the killer whales ate. Since the whales themselves had killed the animal they were eating, Ms. Black says she believes her actions don’t qualify as feeding them.

Her attorney Mr. Biegel says that in one of the two alleged incidents, no killer whale bit the blubber.

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Trigger Happy Scottsdale Arizona Police Officer Shoots And Kills Unarmed Man Holding A Baby Outside His Home

February 17, 2012

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA — An Arizona man was shot to death by police Tuesday while holding his grandson.

Police say 50-year-old John Loxas was holding his grandchild in his arms as he walked around his Scottsdale neighborhood Tuesday night threatening neighbors and police.

“There were at least three officers in position to engage the suspect. At least one of the officers thought he saw something in the suspect’s hands,” said Sgt. Mark Clark.

Loxas was standing outside of his home with his grandchild still in his arms when Officer James Peters fired one shot to the head, killing the suspect.

Police say the 9-month-old boy was not injured during the shooting.

Officers also escaped unharmed.

Some neighbors are now questioning the officers actions.

Investigators say the officers on the scene thought Loxas was holding a gun.

Detectives did not find a weapon on Loxas following the shooting, but did locate several firearms inside the home.

Officer Peters, who fired the fatal shot, has been involved in seven shootings over the past decade.
Six of those have been fatal, and all have been ruled justified.

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Scotland Neck North Carolina Police Officer Joe Williams Used “Stun Gun” To Kill Innocent Disabled Man On Bicycle

November 23, 2011

Scotland Neck, NORTH CAROLINA – A 61-year-old Halifax County man died Tuesday, a day after police shocked him with a stun gun while he was riding his bike, family members said.

Scotland Neck Police Chief Joe Williams said they received a call Monday night about a man who fell off of his bicycle and injured himself in the parking lot of the BB&T bank, 1001 Main St. The caller was concerned that the man was drunk.

When Officer John Turner arrived, he saw Roger Anthony pedaling away along 10th Street. He followed Anthony in his patrol car, briefly put on his sirens and lights and yelled out of the window for him to stop, but Anthony continued to ride away, police said.

Williams said Turner then saw Anthony take something out his pocket and put it into his mouth. At that time, Turner got out of the car and yelled for Anthony to stop. When Anthony didn’t stop, the officer used a stun gun on him, causing him to fall off of his bike.

Anthony was transported to Pitt County Memorial Hospital, where he was declared brain dead, his sister Gladys Freeman said. He was taken off of life support on Tuesday.

Freeman said her brother was disabled, suffered from seizures and had trouble hearing. She said he was riding his bike home from her house on Sunday night. Anthony lived alone in an independent living community.

Williams would not comment further on the incident, citing an ongoing investigation. Turner, who has been on the force for just over a month, has been placed on administrative leave.

Scotland Neck Mayor James Mills is calling for the State Bureau of Investigation to look into what happened.

“The best we’ve been able to determine is that he offered no threat,” Mills said.

Milton Freeman said Anthony, his brother-in-law, used to smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and ride his bicycle around town. Anthony was nicknamed “Rabbit” because of his big ears.

“Why would you (use a stun gun on) a man on a bike? He didn’t do any crime. He wasn’t trying to escape. How (was) he going to escape on his bicycle?” Milton Freeman said.

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Innocent Man Released After 4 1/2 Years Of Life Sentence In Alabama State Prison

October 24, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Antonio Williams walked out of prison this summer with a proclamation of innocence.

He had not, a judge ruled, raped a little girl, a crime for which he had served four years, six months and 26 days in prison.

Williams walked out of prison with that proclamation, with the feeling of redemption it brought.

But he walked into the world without much else. The family he left behind was broken, the jobs he could perform had disappeared.

The life he knew was gone.

“You cannot give back five years of my life for something I didn’t do,” Williams said. “Right now, I want justice.”

Williams, 43, says he is able to forgive. But as he tries to restart his life, he cannot promise to forget.

He can’t forget the time he spent in prison, nor the stigma of being convicted — even wrongly — of child rape.

He can’t forget that it’s been almost six years since he has seen or talked to his own little girl, who now is almost a teenager.

And he can’t forget the system that found a way to convict him in the first place.

“I haven’t got no sorry or thank you from these folks.” he said.

‘Tried to be fair’

Williams grew up in Birmingham, according to court documents. He attended Wenonah High School and graduated there in 1986.

After graduation, Williams worked a variety of jobs including as a cook at Burger King and McDonald’s, and a dietary assistant at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

In 2000, he became a father. The relationship with the little girl’s mother had ended before Williams knew she was pregnant.

“I wasn’t denying her,” Williams said of his infant daughter. “She was the spitting image of me.”

The mother told him about the baby, but later tried to claim it wasn’t his.

A paternity test proved otherwise, and he vowed to stay in his daughter’s life, despite the mother’s objections.

Williams spent time with his daughter at her grandfather’s house where she lived. Her mother had four children, and all lived with her father who had custody of them.

Williams said the other girls would get upset if he paid attention only to his daughter, so he did for all what he did for his. “I tried to be fair,” he said.

That included giving the girls baths, a fatherly task that would come back to haunt him.

In 2005, Williams learned that he was accused of rape and sexual abuse of his daughter’s 9-year-old half sister, one of the girls he had helped to bathe and take care of.

The allegations surfaced in interviews at the Prescott House after it was discovered that the little girl had sexually transmitted diseases.

“She said I touched her on her private parts, three times,” Williams said. “She said that I told her if she told everybody what I did, I would kill her.”

The girl’s father was trying to get custody of her. Williams was trying to get custody of his own daughter.

Someone, Williams said, concocted lies to stop that from happening. Lies that wouldn’t go away.

“I was mad as hell,” Williams said. “They were playing with an innocent man’s life.”

Williams was arrested on April 27, 2005, after being indicted by a grand jury.

“I didn’t think it would go that far,” Williams said. “The detective had told me I had nothing to worry about, that a grand jury would never indict me.”

Prosecutors claimed that Williams had sexual intercourse with the alleged victim, and improperly touched her, several times when the girl was between the ages of 3 and 6.

A year later, Williams said he went to trial before an all-white jury, where various family members of the girl — relatives both by blood and by marriage — testified. There were no eyewitnesses, and no physical evidence, such as DNA. Just the word of an abused little girl mired in a dysfunctional family.

A jury on April 5, 2007, unanimously convicted Williams of two counts of rape.

“I cried,” Williams said. “I never was, and never will, be a child rapist.”

Williams waited for jurors outside of the courthouse. He screamed at them as they left, something former Circuit Court Judge Gloria Bahakel noted in Williams’ sentencing hearing three weeks later.

Williams’ pastor, the Rev. Thomas Moon who has since retired from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Titusville, pleaded with the judge not to hold that against Williams. Williams was a member of the church before his arrest, and was in the choir.

“When I went through instruction classes with him, I was aware of the temper problems in the past,” Moon told Judge Bahakel. “I have counseled him on being more respectful of the process and not letting his personal emotions burst out. He has a very strong feeling that he is innocent in this matter.”

At the May 2007 hearing, Bahakel asked Williams if he had anything to say.

“Nothing I can say,” a weary Williams said. “I am still not guilty.”

Prosecutor Jim Neill argued for the maximum sentence.

“This man raped and sexually abused not just once or twice, but several times, according to evidence, a 5 to 6-year-old girl. He deserves the maximum penalty in this case.”

Bahakel sentenced Williams to life in prison. His only previous convictions were for driving without a license, and third-degree trespassing. He was also ordered to enter the prison’s sex offender program.

“I thought it was unbelievably harsh,” Moon said.

Williams went to prison on May 18, 2007.

Prison is not an easy place for convicted child rapists, but Williams said he kept a low profile. Prison records show no infractions, and Williams said he dodged questions from fellow inmates about why he was in prison.

“It was real scary,” he said. “I was nervous at first, but after that I got the hang of it. It taught me a lot.”

Williams repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, and filed appeals to that end, but no one other than his close circle of friends believed him.

That changed in April of this year when the alleged victim, now 15, changed her story.

Drastically.

Problems with the case

On April 14, 2011, the girl was interviewed again at the Prescott House on an unrelated issue. It was then that she admitted Williams had never abused or raped her. In fact, she named someone else as the rapist, and her older half-sister corroborated that with tales of her own abuse.

Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls said his office moved quickly to correct the wrong.

“The victim lied, and she maintained that lie through the investigation and trial,” Falls said. “As soon as we knew that, we contacted the defense attorney and the judge.”

Williams was appointed an attorney and a hearing was set before Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace.

Wallace, in a ruling issued in May 2011, outlined problems with the initial case: From the outset, the alleged victim was reluctant and gave contradictory testimony.

“She merely indicated that the defendant had touched her while giving her a bath. She did not say it was inappropriate,” Wallace wrote. “She was unable to discuss or recall the allegations that she made to the social worker at the Prescott House, even denying at one point that she had made any allegations against defendant. Only in her testimony, and only after being prompted, did she fully implicate Williams.”

In this year’s hearing, the girl was asked repeatedly if he had ever touched her inappropriately or raped her. Each time she categorically denied it. She named the person who raped her and said he threatened her with harm if she ever told, which is why, she said, she wrongly named Williams the culprit.

“The court took exhaustive measures to examine and re-examine,” Wallace wrote. “She was asked every conceivable way whether any touching or abuse occurred, and she repeatedly and unequivocally denied that any such contact or rape ever took place.”

The judge’s order also noted that the girl told her stepmother after trial that she had not been sexually abused or raped by the defendant, but the stepmother never relayed that to authorities. Also, the victim’s half sister testified that she had been similarly abused by the person the victim is now claiming abused her.

Wallace called some of the testimony admitted into the original trial “appalling.”

He also lashed out at William’s original defense attorney, saying he had never requested to look at the victim’s 2003 interview at the Prescott House. “If he had, he would have discovered that she gave no disclosure that anyone had touched her, let alone Williams,” Wallace wrote.

In his findings, Wallace said based on the newly discovered evidence and testimony, “there is a great likelihood that had this information been known, the defendant would not have been convicted.”

There was evidence the alleged victim had had sexual contact, primarily by contracting an STD at age 6, and the judge said he is convinced she was raped by one person, or multiple people.

“The court is hopeful the true perpetrator will be brought to justice,” Wallace wrote. “Regardless, it is the court’s duty to correct the injustice committed here.”

Wallace set aside and reversed the convictions, and ordered a new trial.

Falls said he can’t recall a time in his 14 years at the district attorney’s office that a conviction was secured only to find out the victim was lying.

“I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to rectify the situation. This is a rare circumstance, and it is what everyone in this office works to prevent,” Falls said. “Our job is not to just prosecute, but to honestly seek the truth in every case. We have to rely on witnesses to prosecute those cases. This is a terrible situation where that reliance was betrayed.”

Prosecutors declined to go forward with a new trial against Williams. The person now being named as the suspect has not been charged. “We would have to make sure we had extensive corroborating, independent evidence,” besides the girl’s testimony, Falls said.

Starting over

Williams walked out of the Jefferson County Jail at 6:23 p.m. on Aug. 23.

“First of all, I said, ‘Thank God I am free,'” Williams said.

Wearing his only pair of jeans, a T-shirt and boots, Williams carried with him a partial transcript of his case, and nothing else.

He walked the several miles to the Cotton Avenue apartment of one of his best friends, where he had his first home-cooked meal in years and the support of his good friend Andre Savannah.

“I believe he was done wrong. He lost five years of his life for something he didn’t do,” Savannah said. “It was dirty, and it was wrong.”

Williams came back to virtually nothing.

His apartment, and all of his furnishings, were gone. His daughter’s aunt had kept for him one suitcase of his belongings, such as photos of Williams and his daughter, and his high school diploma.

He recently moved into his own apartment near his best friend, but the efficiency unit is all but empty. He was diagnosed with a learning disability as a child, so he gets a disability check and use it to pay for his apartment. He has a few items of clothing, a pallet on the floor, and a phone with an answering machine. There is no furniture, and no food in the refrigerator which, two weeks after moving in, was still unplugged.

The only decor is a 4 x 6 plaque on the wall that he received from his church before his arrest and conviction. “It was for me being a role model,” he said proudly.

“I don’t like starting over like this,” he said. “It’s very hard.”

In fact, he and his friends aren’t sure where to even start.

“You have to wonder what does a guy do that has been in jail for all these years,” the pastor said. “For him to get back on his feet in this type of economy, with his skill level, is going to be a tough road to go.”

Moon is trying to help guide Williams in this transition.

“I am trying to do what I can to help him out. The state of Alabama just let him out and sent him home, with nothing,” he said. “I would not want to be in his shoes right now. It is an overwhelming task for anyone.”

Though Williams wrote his daughter from prison, he never heard back from her. He has no way of knowing if she ever got his letters. He has not seen her since 2005, when she was 6.

He hasn’t yet tried to see her, he said, because he is afraid of angering her family.

“The hurting part is not seeing my child. It’s very hard,” Williams said. “It’s like a child crying at night, that’s how hard it is.”

“And,” he said, “I don’t know how she’s going to react to me when she sees me.”

“He has every right to see her,” Moon said.

“And is there any way for him to be compensated for the time he was wrongly incarcerated?” Moon said. “Where can he find work? What options does he have? Are they going to ask him where he has been for the past four years? Employers don’t want to mess with that.”

Williams said he has talked to six lawyers since his release, but none would help him. He thinks he finally has found one interested in taking him on as a client.

He wants justice, he said, whatever that may be.

“This part of my life is always going to be forever damaged, and that’s something I’ll never get over,” he said. “Only God knows how frustrated and angry I am.”

He wants his name publicly cleared.

“I ain’t no child molester,” he said. “I don’t just believe in God and his son Jesus Christ, I live it.”

Still, he said he is ready to move forward, somehow.

“I am going to live my life. I am going to get back on my feet,” Williams said. “It’s not by the grace of man, it’s by the grace of God. He done blessed me once; he’s going to bless me again.”

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Two Innocent Men Released From North Carolina Prisons After A Decade Each Behind Bars

September 22, 2011

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – Two men who spent a decade in prison on murder charges were set free Thursday after a panel of judges in North Carolina ruled they were innocent.

* Kenneth Kagonyera, left, and Robert Wilcoxson were ruled innocent Thursday and set free after a decade in jail.

North Carolina Department of Corrections

Kenneth Kagonyera, left, and Robert Wilcoxson were ruled innocent Thursday and set free after a decade in jail.

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North Carolina Department of Corrections

Kenneth Kagonyera, left, and Robert Wilcoxson were ruled innocent Thursday and set free after a decade in jail.

The three-judge panel made its decision after seven days of testimony in the case against Kenneth Kagonyera, 31, and Robert Wilcoxson, 32.

Wilcoxson was the first to be released. He hugged his 10-year-old daughter, Taneea, and his father as he walked out of jail hours after the hearing. He left quickly, saying only that his plans for his first night as a free man in nearly a decade were simple. “Pray,” he said.

*
STORY: States look to right wrong convictions
*
STORY: Georgia proceeds with Troy Davis execution

Kagonyera left jail hours later to applause and hugs and kisses from his mother and grandmother.

“It was a blessing,” he said. Kagonyera said he had prepared himself for the panel to rule against his claim though he tried not to dwell on the prospect of going back to prison. He said his plans are to “get a job, move on and put this behind me.”

“I am just so happy I don’t know what to say,” said Charlene Holmes, Kagonyera’s mother.

The hearing came after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in April found enough evidence to indicate the men were not guilty, including the confession of another man and DNA testing that pointed to other suspects.

The men had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the slaying of Walter Bowman in 2000, though they repeatedly claimed they were innocent. Their attorneys at the hearing said the men admitted to the murder to avoid life sentences.

District Attorney Ron Moore, the elected prosecutor who handled the case, said, “We accept the ruling of the court.” He said the ruling would make it harder to accept guilty pleas for fear that suspects are taking a deal to avoid longer sentences.

North Carolina is among a growing number of states taking steps to prevent and address wrongful convictions and grant greater access to biological evidence. It has the nation’s only investigative innocence commission.

Until recently, that was largely the purview of the privately funded Innocence Project, which has been involved in 154 DNA exonerations in the USA since 1989, according to the group’s research director, Emily West.

The North Carolina commission has heard three other cases, one of which resulted in the release of a man who served almost 17 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. A three-judge panel found Greg Taylor innocent in February 2010.

Twenty-eight percent of exonerations nationally have involved defendants who pleaded guilty, falsely confessed or made incriminating statements to police, according to the Innocence Project.

The group recently pushed the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the execution of Troy Davis, who claimed he was innocent of the murder of an off-duty police officer in 1989. Witnesses who identified him as the shooter have recanted, the group said on its website. The board declined, and Davis was executed late Wednesday.

“The state clemency system in Georgia and in many other states is not functioning as an effective safety valve in cases where there is serious doubt about guilt,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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