I just finished a marathon two hours ago. It was my second in three weeks, but this one was different. It was not about me this time, but about someone else.
At mile 21, I was struggling, but ended up setting my personal 10k, half marathon and marathon records, all in the same run. This energy came not from me, but from Michael Sherrill, a man waiting to die on North Carolina's death row who does not belong there.
I had three goals set for this, my sixtieth year on earth: 1- run a marathon, 2- have three books published, and 3- try to help Michael Sherrill get relief from false and impossible charges. All three happened this week. I will have done 3 marathons before my 61st birthday; third book, "The Path: a spiritual guide to the Fifth Age" was published Monday; and I got a call that same day from Michael's attorney, that seven capital charges were dismissed by the State of North Carolina. Just last week, we were preparing for his trial, which was to begin on October 27th. Now, with that out of the way, the efforts can go towards getting his first conviction overturned as well.
I am not trying to take credit for the dismissal of charges, but those who read my first book, "Justice Denied: the United States v. the People," may remember Michael's story of injustice which brought this case to the public's attention. How Michael came to be in prison in the first place is not only bizarre, but an indication of how corrupt and abusive our system of "justice" has become.
Due to the popularity of a TV show, "The Closer", the federal government began offering millions of dollars to the States back in the early years of the last decade, if they could reopen old, cold murder/rape/arson cases from long ago and find someone to blame for them like the blonde lady with the funny mouth did on TV. Art once imitated reality, but today, reality is expected to reflect the current cache of art, especially with our politicians.
The State of North Carolina, like most States, jumped on the band wagon, and began assigning murders, rapes, and arsons, to random candidates. Michael Sherrill had grown up in juvenile detention homes, then State prison, and by his 20s, had a record, so he was chosen, though the State had arrested someone else for the alleged crime in 1984, but lost track of that person.
Something had changed in Michael Sherrill once he grew up, however. He chose a different path. Michael became a truck driver for a Fed-Ex contractor (which will ultimately save his life) and he had not had so much as a speeding ticket for two decades when I met him in the "murderer's pod" in Mecklenburg County back in 2006. By then, Michael had already been held for years without trial, in violation of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 and the Sixth Amendment, while the prosecutors tried to break him down, make a deal, and get him to plead guilty to "something."
But Michael was innocent and refused to say he had killed someone, just so that the State of North Carolina could get millions of dollars, even though he was assured that such a confession would earn his own release on "time served". Michael refused the deal.
Interestingly, the crimes piled on Michael Sherrill, with but two exceptions, were impossible for him to have committed. Why? Because he was not even in the States where they occurred, as proven by the tracking system on the trucks Michael drove as a Fed Ex contractor. No one in government thought to check on this little fact, or cared. They just wanted the money.
Two cold cases from 1984, however, fit into days when Michael was not on the road, so in spite of the long list of clearly false charges that had to be dismissed, the State of North Carolina chose to pursue two crimes because Michael was in the zip code when they happened.
The State falsely claimed to have DNA evidence at Michael's trial in 2008, but his standard-issue government "defense" attorneys never asked to see the evidence or forced government to prove its claims. Michael told his attorneys that no such evidence could possibly exist, as he was never there, but they never challenged governments claims on behalf of their client. Michael's attorneys may as well have been sitting at the prosecutors' table, and Michael received a sentence of death.
But lo and behold, now that this scandalous injustice has been brought to the public's attention, Michael's (new) attorneys have demanded to see the alleged "evidence" that helped put their client on death row back in 2008. As the readers of "Justice Denied" may recall, the State of North Carolina claimed after two years of these demands from Michael's attorneys to have "lost" that evidence. For those unfamiliar with prosecutor talk, that means they never had it in the first place and lied to Michael's jury at trial, knowing (or having arranged) his state-issued "defense" attorneys not to challenge them.
Now that all of the other charges have been dismissed, it is time to go back and clean up the mess the State of North Carolina caused back in 2004 when they charged an innocent man with heinous crimes from 1984, just to get money. I'm quite sure the cost of these trials, the cost of Michael's false incarceration for ten years in jails and on death row, and the cost of his defense attorneys add up to far more than the State got from the Feds. We, the Taxpayers, took it on the chin once again, for the personal aggrandizement of a prosecutor.
These foul acts by public officials must stop, but that will never happen until they can be held liable for such crimes, as was once the case. We need an Office of Ombudsman in every federal district, where such corrupt prosecutors can be charged for their misdeeds, and people like Michael Sherrill don't have to sit on death row for years because of the arrogance and lack of integrity of those same public officials.
Time to devolve back to our Constitution.
Viva la devolution.
Born in North Carolina and educated at the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University and Caledonian University in Scotland, Howell now lives in Warsaw, Poland with his wife, Dr. Magdalena Iwaniec-Woltz. Howell is the European Correspondent for The Richardson Post and Chairman of The International Centre for Justice.