In Memory of My Brother
When the Legal System Fails
The following account is true. It happened to my brother and me, and I'm sharing it because I want the world to know my story and understand why I have the view I do about our judicial and political system.
11:34 PM - July 20, 1990
They were standing on the street corner in the middle of a neighborhood of homes on a warm July evening when the car pulled up near them. The passenger door opened and a young African-American in gang attire jumped out.
Marvin, a new acquaintance Scott had made that evening, was talking about his plans for the coming week. Scott was sharing about the boilermaker class he was taking at Bates Technical College in South Tacoma. He was proud of the good grades he'd been getting recently and was looking forward to getting a real job that paid well for once.
"Hey man, wanna buy some crack?" the young man asked Scott.
"No man, I'm not messin' with that stuff!" Scott responded.
"Oh dude... why are you asking us that?" asked Marvin of the young man.
The next thing Scott saw was a gun being pulled out of his coat pocket and pointed at his face.
"Then give me your money, sucka!" he came back.
Scott reached up with one hand and placed it over the muzzle of the gun; pushing it away from his face and to one side.
"Look man, this doesn't have to be like this!" said Marvin, standing just behind Scott.
Suddenly, the gun fired off through Scott's hand, hitting Marvin in the forehead and killing him instantly.
Seeing Marving drop to the ground and having a bullet hole in his hand, instantly Scott spun around as fast as he could and began running away from the gang member.
Bang, bang! Two bullets hit the back of Scott's waist, one near the spine and the other just to the left slightly higher. He dropped to the sidewalk instantly and began bleeding badly.
The Paramedics arrived about five minutes after someone called 911; the hospital was only about five blocks away. He was taken into the emergency room and the team there tried their best to save him. However, because of his great loss of blood, and his liver being blown into mush, he died at 12:30 A.M. that morning.
8:30 A.M. - July 21, 1990
The phone rang in Roberta's apartment. It was the county coroner informing her that her son had died; giving only a sketchy version of the circumstances behind the cause.
After gathering herself together, Roberta called me while I was busy painting a friend's house to make some extra income during my summer vacation. I immediately left the job site and went to my mom's apartment to comfort her and began asking questions.
After getting the contact information from her, I began inquiring into facts with the Tacoma City Police. I learned from the detective involved with the case that the department was suspecting a particular individual and was in the process of "squeezing" other gang members they knew to give up information as to the culprit.
In that same day's Tacoma News Tribune was the front page story, using both men's full names, to document for the public the record of what had occurred.
July 23, 1990
On the editorial page of the Tacoma News Tribune was an article by the paper's editor commenting on the rise in hand gun deaths on the "Hilltop" area of Tacoma. It began with the words, "Two men, who recently got out of a long prison term, were the latest statistic in the growing number of people murdered in the Hilltop neighborhood."
I couldn't believe what I was reading! Shocked at the inaccuracy of what had been said about my brother, Scott, I immediately called the editor.
"Mr. Jones, why did you write in your editorial today that my brother had just gotten out of a long prison term, when he's never been in one?" I asked him.
"How would you know this?" he asked.
"I'm his younger brother." I replied.
"Uh, well, they were together when they were killed and Marvin Smith, we know for certain, was recently released from a long prision term." he responded.
"Excuse me? So this is guilt by association here?" I asked indignantly.
"So, what's your problem?" he said rather smuggly.
"My problem is that you're slandering my brother, who is now dead and unable to defend himself. That's my problem!" I nearly shouted into the phone. "I want a correction, or retraction printed to correct this factual error."
"Well, we didn't name the two men in my editorial, so I'm not going to correct anything when I didn't identify them by name." he responded.
"Mr. Jones, do you mean to tell me that you believe the people who read the front page news two days ago, where both men's name were used to identify those murdered, aren't going to be able to remember two days later who they were when they read your editorial and you refer specifically to them?" I asked.
"Well, I don't care what you think, I'm not going to change anything and I'm not going to apologize to anyone." he said.
The phone's dial tone droned on until I hung up my receiver, stunned at the callousness this man just exhibited. It was at that point that I resolved to personally NEVER subscribe to this newspaper.
July 28, 1990
My mother and I finally receive word from the Tacoma Police that Andre' Blake, a 17 year old African-American has been arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder by the Pierce County District Attorney - Landenberg. We learned from the detective that fellow gang member implicated him as the assailant and the weapon used in the crime had been found stashed under an abandoned house porch only a few blocks from the scene.
Being a family of the working middle class, neither I, nor my mother, had any financial resources to seek, let alone hire, legal counsel to monitor this case through the court system, so we were happy to learn that Scott's assailant would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
While he was being held in the Pierce County jail awaiting his trial, a few months went by and he was assigned a defense lawyer by the state to represent him.
October 11, 1990
Roberta received a paper from the Pierce County Superior Court informing her that Andre's defense lawyer had successfully plea bargained with the District Attorney's Office his case to two counts of second degree murder. While we didn't understand all of what was involved in the legal issues surrounding these developments, we were shocked to learn that a person who killed two people in cold blood for a few bucks, could get out of being prosecuted under the original charges.
This was frustrating to us, to say the least, and our faith in the "justice system" was diminishing. However, it wouldn't be until years later that my faith in both the "justice system" and our politicians who make the laws, would be reduced to utter contempt, as those who read on will learn in due course.
January 12, 1991
The day for Andre's sentencing in court by the judge hearing the case had arrived. As Scott's brother, I had been contacted and informed of my prerogative to attend the sentence hearing, and speak to the judge on my brother's behalf during the sentencing.
When it came my turn, I stood up and told the judge, "Your honor, I don't claim to know all of what's gone on to allow this man to plea bargain his crime to a lower level, but that doesn't change the fact that he murdered two people in cold blood. Scott was just beginning to return his life to a semblence of normalcy by going to school and getting good grades to become productive again after his second divorce. Nevertheless, I implore the court to sentence this man to the maximum term allowed under the law for such a crime. While I realize that this action will not restore my brother, I hope that this court recognizes that Mr. Blake will get to continue living, both through his sentence, in relative comfort, until he is freed to continue life as best he can make it. I just don't understand how this is justice, but I accept the decision of the court."
The judge then stated that he would serve 17 years in prison, slammed down the gavel, and walked out. I stood there stunned; not knowing what to think. A person kills two people and gets only 17 years? So, at his age of 18 in 17 years Andre would be 35; only three years younger than what Scott was when he killed him.
May 23, 1991
I had been receiving communications from the state's Vicitim's Advocacy group informing me that I had the right to register and request to be notified when Andre's release was to occur. I decided to take advantage of this program and sent in my paperwork for registration. I was not necessarily concerned that this man would get out of prison and come looking for me, but was thinking more in terms of being kept informed since it would be a long time from then.
July 6, 2002
During my summer vacation from teaching, I thought again about Andre's pending release from prison and decided to inquire of the State's Dept. of Corrections. I wanted to find out something regarding Andre's release, so I called and got a hold of an officer within the department who could tell me the answer.
I wanted to know if Andre would have any parole hearings, be able to get out early on good behavior, or if he would be able to get out early on a work release program. The officer came back a few minutes later after being put on hold and informed me that, according to the law under which he was sentenced, there would be no parole hearings, early release for good behavior, or qualify for a work release program and get out early because of that.
Needless to say, this was rather assuring and pleasing to hear.
December 28, 2006
Getting nearer Andre's release from prison, I decided to once again contact the Victim's Advocacy program within the state's D.O.C. After explaining my reason for calling, they asked for Andre's assigned number, which I gave them off of one of the letters I had on file. After about a 10 minute hold, the lady came back on the phone and informed me that they would need to call me back. No explanation, nothing.
The next day, another woman called to inform me that Andre' had already been released on a work release program the previous May of that year. I nearly dropped the phone. My mind once again was struggling to make sense of this already unjust nightmare.
"How can this be?" I asked her. "Why wasn't I informed of his release? I registerd with your program."
"I don't know, I'll have to check into this. But I can give you the name and phone number of the corrections officer monitoring Mr. Blake's program." she informed me.
After taking down the information, I called the gentleman and explained why I was calling.
"Well, sir, I can't share any information with you about this man since I've not been informed of anything regarding your being registered with the V.A. program." he informed me.
I called the Victim's Advocacy program back and asked them to check their records regarding my paperwork for registering to be notified of Andre's release. After some digging in their records, they discovered that they did have my paperwork I'd sent in to them back in 1991, but their computer database found no such person on their records. I asked for an explanation. They said they'd get back to me.
Jaunary 27, 2007
After hearing nothing from the D.O.C. for a month, I decided to get in touch with my state district representative to get them invovled and see if some fire couldn't be put underneath the D.O.C. to give me an answer.
Big mistake! To make a long story shorter, I was informed by my representative via email that, not only had the department found that it was a "glitch" in their data entry process back at that time, but that the director of the D.O.C. had contacted me and apologized for this error, personally.
My response to my representative went something similar to this: "Dear Rep. Darnit, So, not only has the system of 'justice' failed me, but the state's D.O.C. has also demonstrated incompetence by goofing up putting me into their system for notifying me of Andre's release. And as far as the director of the D.O.C. contacting me and apologizing to me about it personally, well, I can only guess that this is what he told you in reply to your inquiry about it, but I can assure you that nothing of the sort has ever occurred - not even a voice message left at my house, let alone a letter - so I can only conclude that he's lying to you as well. Thanks for nothing!"
April 14, 2007
I was watching the news broadcast one evening and my ears perked up when the "talking head" began telling her audience about the actions of our Govenor Gregoire having dealt with the overcrowding of prisons in our state by signing into law a program which let out early thousands of prisoners to work release programs. BINGO! My answer had finally arrived and the pieces of the puzzle finally began to fit.
The irony of this was that this governor had won her office by one of the most controversial races in 2004 to ever occur in not only this state, but the nation. After the initial count had been made, Dino Rossi had been declared the winner by a difference of about 1,200 votes. Gregoire's repsonse was, "Well, we demand a recount. That's hardly a landslide!"
After a second count, and new ballots had been discovered uncounted, the declared winner was once again Rossi, but only by about 400 votes this time. Finally, after a third recount and even MORE newly discovered ballots were found in King County's precincts, the count found Gregoire had won by only 129 votes. Her immediate proclamation was, "I've won by a landslide!"
Yes, folks, not only is justice NOT served for our tax paying, law abiding citizenry, but their vote is also overturned by simply forcing the recount until the party in power in the state gets their way. Only in the United States!