When the Arizona State Bar earlier this year separated former Maricopa County District Attoney Andrew Thomas from his law license, a number of people who had been victimized by this man and his staff felt some sense of vindication. The unfortunate thing, however, was that Thomas was disbarred for bringing a criminal case into a political fight between Sheriff Joe Arpaio and people in the courthouse when, in reality, the conduct of his staff in the wrongful conviction of Courtney Bisbee should have been enough to have a number of prosecutors disbarred forever.
Because I am at a retreat in the high desert hinterlands of Colorado, my posting time is severely limited, and I am going to let the article from the Phoenix New Times tell the whole terrible story in all of its details. What I will say is that this not only was a wrongful conviction, it was a conviction driven by prosecutorial ambition, the greed of families that believed telling lies under oath would enable them to sue someone else for Big Money, and by the general lies and hysteria that have accompanied the Mondale Act since its inception in 1974.
Andrew Thomas was not satisfied with bringing a wrongful case against Courtney; no, he and his political allies had to send an entire SWAT team to arrest an unarmed, diminutive and non-violent woman. Lest anyone think that the prosecution had the “right” motives but wrong facts in this case, think again. The article details the deliberate myopia of Andrew Thomas and others who wanted a scalp for their trophy cases.
I will include a few snippets from the NT piece to point out why I believe this was a travesty of justice:
The state alleged Bisbee had engaged in a mutual grope session with a 13-year-old named Jon Valles. Incredibly, she was supposed to have done this in a room full of teenage witnesses, some of whom had babysat her daughter.
Two weeks following her arrest on February 11, Bisbee was charged with three counts of child molestation and three counts of indecency. The media lumped her in with various high-profile cases of improper student-teacher relations, though Bisbee was not a teacher, and Jon was not her student. Rather, he attended Desert Shadows Middle School, a mile or two south of Horizon.
Bisbee pleaded not guilty, aced a polygraph test, and passed a rigorous screening designed to sniff out pedophiles. Still, she was convicted after a six-day bench trial in early 2006. Despite conflicting testimony and a lack of physical evidence, Superior Court Judge Warren Granville believed Bisbee’s accuser and found Bisbee guilty on two counts of child molestation, resulting in a sentence of 11 years in state prison.
But the case had holes in it, and things started to come apart after Bisbee was convicted:
In 2007, Jon’s elder brother Nik recanted his testimony against Bisbee in a sworn affidavit; he accused his mother and his brother of concocting the tale to establish grounds for a lawsuit.
Since the trial, other witnesses have maintained that Jon lied about Bisbee. Numerous individuals have communicated this information to County Attorney Andrew Thomas, to no avail. The conviction took place under Thomas’ watch, and legal experts assert it is Thomas’ duty as a seeker of justice to investigate this new information.
As I see it, the evidence was there all the time, but people like Thomas who already are fundamentally-dishonest run from the truth like a vampire runs from a cross. And when Thomas left office for his ill-fated run for attorney general of Arizona, his successor was no more willing to take a hard look at the Bisbee conviction than was Thomas.
Unfortunately, prosecutors and judges tend to take convictions as hard-and-fast and in their minds, innocence cannot be a defense, since all accused people MUST be guilty, otherwise they would not have been accused in the first place.