Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ring of Snitches: How Detroit and Many Others Slap On False Murder Convictions

I, Rev. Edward Pinkney, live in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The Berrien County Sherriff paid people to testify against me in my election fraud case of 2009. We even have it on tape. When Tommie Travis was making a tape for the Sheriff, after completing the tape, Tommie asked the question on tape: "Are you still going to pay me?"

There are many stories of this nature all around the country. Here is a story about two young men, Brooks and Bell, both drug dealers, who had been friends for a year. While Brooks was selling crack outside of a laundromat on the eastside of Detroit, he happened to see Bell leaving a home where less than a week later police discovered the body of Willa B. Bias shot to death. Brooks casually mentioned to Bell what he'd seen. According to Brooks, Bell was mum at first, but then invited Brooks to blow lines of cocaine in his Ford Bronco. Inside the car, Bell confessed to the murder.

Lonnie Bell said he killed Bias because she was supposed to be killed, possibly for the $70,000 in drug money her foster son kept hidden in the basement. He also told Brooks that if he ever told anyone what he saw he would lay Brooks' corpse next to Bias's. Brooks was shaken--Bell had a reputation as a cold, careful killer. Brooks soon decamped for Monroe, Michigan, fearing Bell would kill him if he stayed in Detroit.

Brooks says he never told anyone what he saw until 2013, the year he was contacted by an independent investigator reassessing the murder case. Brooks said he is coming forward now because he believes the wrong man is in prison for Bias's death.

Today Lonnie Bell is dead, a casualty of Detroit's gang warfare. The man imprisoned for Bias's murder is Lacino Hamilton, her foster son, who grew up in her home and was 19 years old when she was killed. Hamilton is now 40, has always maintained his innocence, and he always says he loved his foster mother, who he simply referred to as "Mom." Without a retrial, the earliest he can expect to be let out of prison is 2046 when he will be 71.

Hamilton's murder conviction hinged on two pieces of evidence--a coerced statement and testimony from a jailhouse informant claiming that Hamilton confessed to the murder while awaiting trial in his jail cell. According to affidavits, courthouse transcripts, letters, and internal memos obtained by Truthout, the informant (who is long deceased) may have received incentives from Detroit police to falsely testify against a number of individuals to send them to prison for the rest of their lives. These documents also suggest that the informant was part of a ring of jailhouse informants, or snitches, that allegedly received lenient sentences as well as food, drugs, sex, and special privileges from detectives in the Detroit Police Department's homicide division, in return for making statements against dozens of people eventually convicted of murder.

We must re-examine the role of the criminal justice system. The future of the Black community itself depends on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society. We need to face the fact that more than half of the young Black men in many large American cities are currently under the control of the criminal justice system. More than 40% of the people in prison are innocent, because informants lie!

A report published by Northwestern University School of Law traced the first documented use of "snitch testimony" in the United States to 1819, when the state of Vermont convicted Jesse Boorn for murder based on testimony from their jail cell while awaiting trial. In exchange for testifying, the cellmate was freed after Boorn's trial, and Boorn was sentenced to the gallows.

This basic reward system underpinning jailhouse informant testimony persists to the present day. It is not difficult to imagine why a prisoner informant, or anyone else, would lie about overhearing a confession if it means real material benefits. Informants lie primarily in exchange for lenience for their own crimes and also for money. Snitch testimony was key in over 45.9% of cases in Michigan. The prosecutor with all his resources will stomp to the gutter to get a conviction. He has taxpayer money to burn! Most white people believe that Black people get what they deserve.

-Rev. Pinkney

Reference: Ring of Snitches