COMMENTARY: Conflict With Convicts And Prosecutors, Duh
MIKE VINSON, Guest Columnist
Sunday, August 28, 2011 7:55 am
Daily, prosecutors receive criticism regarding how they handle certain cases.
Objectively speaking, there are instances where such criticism is unfounded; there are other instances where such criticism is well founded.
The front-page headline of the Wednesday, Aug. 17 edition of USA Today read: “Did prosecutors taint Memphis murder trial?”
The accompanying article detailed the ongoing controversy swirling around the case of Michael Rimmer, convicted in 1998 for the 1997 murder of Ricci Ellsworth, Rimmer’s one-time girlfriend, in a “run-down” Memphis motel.
At the center of the controversy is alleged prosecutorial misconduct – specifically, that investigators withheld “exculpatory evidence” that could’ve swayed the jury’s decision.
Kelly Gleason, Rimmer’s court-appointed attorney, stated, “In my 20 years of doing this, I’ve never seen such outrageous conduct by prosecutors.”
Going back to the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1968 in Memphis, and the questionable manner in which it handled the case of James Earl Ray, MLK’s alleged assassin, the Memphis District Attorney General’s office has come under scrutiny several times.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean there has been any prosecutorial wrongdoing in the Rimmer case, does it?
Maybe, maybe not.
However, there is enough concern in the Rimmer case that Shelby County judge James Beasley (whose father, coincidentally, was a member of the team that prosecuted Ray) ruled Prosecutor Thomas Henderson “who now supervises all criminal cases in Memphis … couldn’t participate in the [Rimmer] case anymore.”
One must admit that something is “murky” when a sitting judge’s hand is forced to the extent that he removes from a murder case a prosecutor who once supervised all criminal cases in that jurisdiction.
The article further stated, “Deputy District Attorney General John Campbell, who was not involved in Rimmer’s trials, disputes the contention that prosecutors withheld evidence.”
What else do you expect someone in Campbell ’s position to say?
Is it logical to believe he would jeopardize his job/career by publicly speaking out against his colleagues – even if it’s the right thing to do – versus tip-toeing around it and protecting his position?
Case-in-point: Back in April 1998, author/attorney Gerald Posner came out with a book titled Killing the Dream, a horrendously slanted take (from my perspective) on James Earl Ray being guilty of the MLK assassination.
In that book (page 342, Acknowledgements), Posner stated, “The district attorney general’s office in Memphis at times seemed like a second office. … Particularly stellar was Assistant District Attorney General John Campbell.”
However, in February 2010, Posner was charged with “plagiarism” and resigned from his position as chief investigative reporter for the Daily Beast, an online tabloid then owned by the Miami New Times.
Since Campbell once was chummy with a plagiarist such as Gerald Posner, are we to believe Campbell when he “disputes the contention that prosecutors withheld evidence” in the Michael Rimmer murder case?
However, what I found most disturbing about the Rimmer case are these particular quotes from that same USA Today article:
“Fellow inmates said Rimmer obsessed over Ellsworth. …
“He’d get spit in the corners of his mouth like a dog salivating when he talked about her,” said William Conaley, who served time with Rimmer in 1993 and knew some of Ellsworth’s relatives, in the article.
“Rimmer boasted that he could dump Ellsworth’s body in a Mississippi lake,” Conaley also said.
For some time, I’ve had considerable conflict with investigators/prosecutors using the statements of inmates/convicts to build cases against defendants: If a convict will testify for the prosecution, then, all of a sudden, the convict is a credible source.
However, if the same convict testifies for the defense, his/her word is no good.
How come? Because he/she has a criminal record!
Actually, this is such an obvious insult to public intelligence that it belongs on the “duh” category?