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The long history of law and justice is fraught with examples of injustice, calamity, calumny and corruption. Those are, thankfully, the exception and not the rule - for some. Among persons of color (POC), and particularly Native American and African Americans, it's not as clear.

That's part of the problem.

Without a viable, fair legal system and judicial philosophy, society can't function. There would not - could not - be a system of legal remedy worthy of the role that human civilization requires: to serve as a rule & guide in the formulation, operation, regulation of codified laws functioning as the foundation on which to build, grow and succeed.

The law isn't perfect. Society isn't static. Laws, rules, regulations, the role of the legal system and the oversight of its key elements all change over time, sometimes quickly and other times not, in response to the circumstances. Miscarriages of justice - some egregious - do occur. And sometimes, overly strict adherence to codified processes and technical proscription to the operating tenets can be the reason. Other times, they're the excuse...1

"This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable."

      -- Judge Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court
There are principles underlying the Western concept of justice - principles that go far back thousands of years. Some of them sound quite admirable:
From  Genesis 18:23-32:
Abraham drew near, and said, "Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? ... What if ten are found there?" He [The Lord] said, "I will not destroy it for the ten's sake."

From De Laudibus Legum Angliae, Sir John Fortescue (c. 1470):
"one would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally."

From Sir William Blackstone:
"All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer."

    -- Commentaries on the Laws of England
 By William Blackstone, William Hardcastle; Ch. 27, p. 713
Unfortunately, there are many examples2 of just the reverse occurring, when the innocent suffered and the guilty went free. And these examples appear to relate to, and increase disproportionately, when elements of racism, ageism, homophobia, misogyny and the like are involved - socially and morally negative, discriminating behaviours that cause people to act out of fear and ignorance.

There are likely several existing cases that people can point to - this diary is going to touch on only particular case: The Fairbanks Four.

Jump over the orange Oort cloud to continue.

In the early morning hours of October 11, 1997, a young man by the name of John Hartman was found by the side of the road at the corner of 9th Avenue and Barnette Street in Fairbanks, Alaska. He had been severely beaten, and died later that morning at the hospital.

Four young Native American men were arrested and tried for the murder: Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, George Frese and Kevin Pease. But were they the perpetrators of the crime? From The Fairbanks Four website:

Police collected the shoes and clothes that George, Marvin, Eugene, and Kevin were wearing the night of October 12, 1997 and sent them to a forensic lab, most likely hoping or assuming that some physical evidence would link them to the victim. Nothing did. No blood, no DNA, nothing.

Police dismantled Marvin’s car looking for evidence that would at least place the four young men together in the vehicle. Nothing.

Despite the accusation that these four men had spent the evening together on an unprovoked spree of violence, culminating in the kicking/stomping murder of John Hartman, no physical evidence of any kind has ever linked them to the victim, the crime scene, or each other.

The Fairbanks Four were convicted of the murder.

In 2012, William Z. Holmes - serving a live sentence for the murder of 2 people in California on Christmas Eve 2002 - provided a sworn statement that he and four high school friends were responsible for the murder of John Hartman. A separate sworn statement, provided by a former classmate of Homes', corroborated the story.

The state prosecutor called it hearsay:

In a 23-page Fairbanks Superior Court filing released Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Adrienne Bachman questions the veracity of affidavits from William Holmes and Scott Davison, who say five other men reportedly beat Hartman. She also calls additional expert testimony the defense wishes to introduce for consideration impermissible under Alaska statute.

      -- Prosecutor Counters Confession in Fairbanks Four Case as Hearsay, Chris Klint, Senior Digital Producer, 2KTUU;  07:13 PM AKDT May 15, 2014 .
What I've found noteworthy in my readings of the State of Alaska's statements regarding the case is the insistence that the technical aspects and Constitutional aspects of the mechanics behind the trial were all correct - which sounded like "We went through the motions accurately" and seemed to almost studiously avoid any possible reference to the lack of physical evidence, the way confessions were acquired, the almost de facto dismissal of the alibis and witness testimony of the accused because of their Native American ancestry... in short, the careful exclusion of any area that could imply that justice was or was not served. The statements were all about the execution of the trial, and didn't stray from that, as if the concept of a correctly traversed stage routine could eliminate any concern as to whether the actual content was of any quality or substance.

 It's almost as if there may be a "There" there. As in, "Let's not go there."

Personally, I'm all for thorough reviews and the pursuit of justice, even if delayed, rather than justice denied, so in response to the implication of the State's response, I say "No, let's. Let's go there together. Let's go there, now."

What can you do? You can Like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, share links to the Fairbanks Four website, and read more about it on the Daily News-Miner website. Let others know.

Share this story. Insist on a REAL review.  Let's go THERE, in the name of justice for everyone.

Hat-tip to Catkin for the prompt to write this up, and a very important and belated hat tip to Aji for her feedback and suggestions that helped pull this together.



1 In the case , Scalia joined with Thomas in an outrageous dissent that effectively undermines a core principle of the whole concept of "justice."

2 Researching this particular case provided insight to wrongful convictions primarily touching upon Native American and African American persons. That should not imply that Hispanic or Asian wrongful convictions are non-existent; they occur, and also comprise a disproportionate amount of wrongful convictions. And the stats can be located very easily via Google. A few Native American examples:

And some African American examples:

"Just to name some examples: In North Carolina, the case of Darryl Hunt (1984) case and the Ronald Cotton (1984) case; New Jersey cases were McKinley Cromedy (1992), David Shephard  (1983) and Nate Walker (1974).  Possibly the most egregious, among a host of Texas cases, was Timothy Cole  (1985) who died in prison before he was exonerated.    

In California it was Herman Atkins (1986) and Albert Johnson (1992).  In Atlanta, three white women misidentified Calvin Johnson, Jr. (1983) as the rapist, and in Maryland  four people misidentified Bernard Webster (1982) as a rapist."

        -- Sex, Race, and Wrongful Conviction By Matthew Johnson, October 3, 2013 06:32:00 am, The Crime Report.

Originally posted to Native American Netroots on Sun May 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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