Category: Cory Maye
Eric Stringfellow, in today’s paper:
Maye had no criminal record, and officers found only traces of one marijuana cigarette inside the apartment. There also was testimony that the front of the officers’ clothing was not marked with any law enforcement insignia.
Why would someone with no criminal history and with nothing to hide inside his home do something that seems so out of character, like knowingly shoot a police officer?
There also are questions about the validity of some information in the warrant to search Maye’s apartment. When coupled with other elements, this doesn’t sound like justice.
Yes. Maye fatally wounded a police officer. But in giving Maye the benefit of the doubt about the officers’ identities, a capital murder conviction and death penalty sounds extreme.
What’s clear is Maye deserves a new trial and a fresh look at the evidence.
His life is at stake. And like everyone else, he is entitled to justice.
For reasons I’ll get into later, I actually think the appropriate remedy is for the judge to determine that as a matter of law, a jury could not have found Cory guilty, enter a “not guilty” verdict, and set him free.
But a new trial would certainly be preferable to death or life in prison.
I’ll assume that anyone who’s read at all about Cory Maye’s case knows who Cory Maye is. And you all know who I am. But I thought it might be helpful to run down a quick profile of the major players in last week’s hearing before I get into the substance of the hearing itself.
Cory’s chief counsel, and the public defender for Jefferson Davis County. Bob’s a gregarious, easygoing, likeable guy. Great sense of humor. He’s self-deprecating, save for when he’s talking about his legal skills, in which case he’s rather confident (from what I’ve seen and heard – justifiably so). He’s an unabashed liberal in the deep south, and I think he sort of gets a kick out of that. He’s told me on a couple of occasions how much he enjoys it when one of his biggest critics in the police department or city government comes into his office asking for some help on, for example, a DWI charge. “All of the sudden, criminal defense lawyers aren’t so evil to them anymore,” he says. “I just smile, take their money, and do what I can.”
Evans has an office full of hunting trophies and a drawer full of guns, but he tells me his hunting trips of late are more about getting out and away than the actual shooting of things. He’s a family guy, with four (I think) kids. One of them played high school football with Cory.
Bob has also knew Ron Jones for most of Jones’ life. There are times when I’ve noticed that he’s torn in this case. Not that he has any doubts about Cory’s innocence, but more because he regrets the strain the case is putting on Jones’ family. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s taking Cory’s case pro bono.
Abe is the Covington associate who first emailed me early this year about bringing the firm on board. He caught a link to this site in a post by Jonathan Adler over at National Review’s “The Corner.” Very early on, he told me his first thoughts upon reading about the raid were of his own daughter, and what he’d have done if he’d have been in Cory’s predicament that night. Abe got his undergraduate degree from Liberty University, a conservative school (Jerry Falwell founded it), and his law degree from George Washington University.
Abe’s a talker. Evans once said to me of Abe (good naturedly, of course), “Man that guy can talk. It’s like somebody told him he has to use up all the words he’ll ever use in his life in the next two weeks.” His verbosity served him well at the hearing. His oral argument was fantastic. I was wowed. And it’s pretty clear that he overwhelmed the prosecution. Wait ’til you read the transcript.
Vernia much more soft-spoken than Pafford or Evans, and has something of a wry, dry sense of humor. He’s a former federal prosecutor with extensive experience in prosecuting Internet child pornography cases, in addition to various other types of white collar crime. It was Vernia who pursued the identity of the informant. His experience as a prosecutor tipped off his suspicions about the affidavits Officer Jones provided for the warrant to Cory’s apartment. Of course, it also made sense that the defense team’s former prosecutor would be given the uncomfortable task of levying the heavy charge that Officer Jones’ shortcuts in the warrant process are what led to his death. I think Vernia pulled it off quite well. I expected to see some gasps and discomfort from observers on the prosecution side at that point in the hearing. I didn’t notice any.
Gabel is based in Covington’s San Francisco office, and is the greenest member of the defense team — she earned her J.D. in 2004. In the short term at least, it was her part of the case that won the day. Gabel questioned Michelle Longino, the grandmother of Tacorriana. Longino gave some powerful, emotional testimony about Cory’s close relationship with his daughter, as well as a wealth of information about Cory’s character. The defense’s aim was to show how far Rhonda Cooper had fallen short in giving the jury information about Cory has a real, three-dimensional person — or, in other words, to give them reasons not to execute him. Gabel covered similar ground in her oral argument. She got a bit emotional toward the end, which I gather in most courtrooms and in most cases is ill-advised. In this case, though, I think it may actually have helped.
Labson is the Covington partner overseeing the case. He didn’t speak at the hearing, though I chatted with him a few times. He’s a nice guy, a Harvard grad with a background in food and drug regulation.
McDonald is the district attorney. He’s the one who prosecuted Cory, and who handled the bulk of the hearing. He’s an egg-shaped man, with a sunburnt complexion, and a deep drawl that lumbers over the hard candy he always seems to have in his mouth.
There’s no questioning the guy’s lawyering prowess. He’s a skilled, deft, and clever attorney. He’s also a bully. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less sympathetic prosecutor. But then, he doesn’t try to be sympathetic. His M.O. is self-assuredness, not likeability. He comes off as so cocksure and confident in his case, he at times seems almost annoyed that he has to go through the formality of a court proceeding. He projects authority, giving off a vibe that sort of commands you to buy into what he’s saying simply because he’s the prosecutor, and he knows about these things, regardless of the evidence.
That’s certainly how he’s approached this case. I remember when I first began writing about Cory, McDonald emailed me several times to tell me, rather dismissively, that if I’d only read the trial transcripts, all of my questions would be answered, and my concerns about this case would go away. He even sent them to me. Needless to say, the transcripts really only confirmed my suspicions, and raised all sorts of new questions.
It’s easy to see how McDonald could knock an experienced or overworked defense attorney around the courtroom. I’ll give examples of this that came out at the hearing, but his technique seems to be to embrace multiple theories about what happened, from which he can then pick and choose in his line of questioning, depending on which theory best fits whatever aspect of the case is in question. Some of the theories contradict one another. Some are dubious. But you can see how this technique would serve him well in a trial. At trial, a jury is generally focused on the present. It would be unlikely to occur to a juror that Buddy might be using a theory to cross examine a witness that’s in direct conflict with a theory he used to question a different witness days before. In the “now,” the feeling stuck in the juror’s head is that Buddy cast doubt on what the witness was saying. Never mind that his line of questioning would make no sense when put into context. It’s not difficult to see how an outgunned defense attorney would have a difficult time keeping up.
I don’t think Buddy’s methods worked as well last week, for several reasons. First, his audience was an experienced judge, not a lay jury. Second, he was up against a bright team of well-prepared lawyers, not a sleep-deprived, short-on-resources public defender. And third, last week he was meneuvering not in the tight, fast-paced confines of a trial, but in a slower, drawn-out, hearing — a format where arguments matter, context matters, and the defense team had time to recognize, contextualize, and call him on his bullshit.
Buddy’s also a showman. Several times during the trial, he’d get up while the defense team was talking or questioning a witness, unsubtly march to the back of the courtroom, and huddle up in the corner with the bailif and highway patrol officers. His cell phone went off twice (by my count) during court proceedings. I’ll get into some of his other theatrics later. The point is, the guy stops at nothing to get an advantage, including distraction, intimidation, and even — when need be — a little humor. He’s certainly entertaining to watch.
Miller is the assistance district attorney, looks a little like Richard Hatch, and in some ways is the good cop to Buddy’s bad cop. At Cory’s trial, Miller delivered the initial closing statement, which was rather innocuous and straightforward. A more at-ease Rhonda Cooper gave her closing. Buddy then gave the rebuttal, and pouncedfor the kill. I actually thought Miller’s cross-examination of defense crime scene investigator Larry McCann was the high point of the two days for the prosecution. McCann ably recovered on redirect, but Miller’s cross of McCann early on Wednesday was the one point in the hearing where I briefly thought the prosecution had the upper hand.
Judge Michael Eubanks
He looks like a younger Donald Rumsfeld, minus the glasses. I was impressed with Judge Eubanks. First, it’s rather extraordinary for a judge to give a defense team a two-day hearing on a post-trial motion. He also gave them quite a bit of leeway to make their case, including allowing their computer animations into evidence. He seemed alert and interested in the arguments, asked questions of his own, and was even open to defense suggestions that he made some errors during the trial. He seemed more amused by Buddy McDonald’s theatrics than moved or persuaded by them. And of course, his ruling on Thursday shows that he is taking these motions seriously.
I’ll grant that my opinion could change rather dramatically depending on what happens over the next couple of months. But Bob Evans has been telling me for months that Eubanks is fair, intellectually honest, and from Cory’s perspective probably one of the better judges in Mississippi to be ruling on these motions. I saw nothing at the hearing to suggest otherwise.
Rhonda Cooper continues to hurt Cory Maye years after his family fired her.
Cooper speaks up to defend her work in the Maye case in a piece by Jerry Mitchell in today’s Clarion-Ledger.
Her attempts to rationalize her inadequacies are mind-blowing. Excerpts, followed by my comments:
Jackson lawyer Rhonda Cooper said Monday she did her job in defending Cory Maye of Prentiss, who was convicted of killing a police officer in a 2001 drug raid.
“I was trying to save somebody’s life,” she said. “It was do or die.”
Why, then, did Cooper meet with Cory just three times in the two years between the raid and the trial? Why did she tell Cory’s family she had experience in capital murder trials when, in fact, she had none?
Eubanks found that Cooper had adequately represented Maye during the guilt phase of the trial. “I’m pleased the judge found that I didn’t do anything wrong in the trial,” she said.
Um, not the same, Ms. Cooper. The judge found you “competent” with respect to a claim of ineffective assistance of council. It doesn’t meean you “didn’t do anything wrong.” It means you weren’t so horrible so as to give cause for the rare and extraordinary step of ordering a new trial. It is by no means an endorsement of your performance.
On Jan. 23, 2004, jurors returned with their guilty verdict at 11:49 a.m. – a little more than an hour after they started deliberations.
Cooper said the verdict stunned her. “It took my breath away,” she said. “Nobody expected that.”
Jesus. You didn’t expect it? You’re the defense attorney, for crying out loud. You’re supposed to prepare for these kinds of things.
The proper verdict, she said, would have been manslaughter.
I’m no expert on legal ethics, but this strikes me as highly inappropriate. A man is maintaining his innocence in the appeals process, and his former attorney tells a newspaper reporter he’s probably guilty of manslaughter? Surely that borders on some sort of malpractice.
She said she asked for more time to prepare for the penalty phase, but the judge turned her down, saying jurors from the sequestered panel were tired and wanted to go home.
“We had the conviction,” she said. “Why did we have to move into the penalty phase that afternoon?”
She should have been given more time, perhaps a week, she said. “We didn’t have to do it that Friday. Where is he going such that you have to rush it?”
She may have a point, here. I’ve always been troubled by the fact that the jury deliberated and convicted, and that the death penalty phase was tried, deliberated, and a verdict delivered all in the same afternoon. But it doesn’t excuse her utter and complete lack of preparation for the death penality phase. She hadn’t prepared the two witnesses she did call, nor had she called a sufficient number of witnesses in the first place. She hadn’t even prepared jury instructions, explaining to the judge, “I didn’t think it would get this far.” That’s inexcusable. It goes back to her having no experience in a capital case, as well as the way she misrepresented that lack of experience to Cory’s family.
In the end, “we got what we wanted, which is no death sentence,” she said, “so if everybody has to celebrate at my expense to get Cory off death row, so be it.”
No. We’re nowhere near “what we wanted.” Cory could still be sentenced to death, and as things stand now, he could still spend the rest of his life in prison. And there’s no “we” about it. If Rhonda Cooper hadn’t been fired, Cory would still be on death row.
Perhaps Cooper did “do her best,” given the circumstances. But there’s no getting around the fact that she misled Cory’s family about her experience (and cashed their check). Her lack of experience was apparent throughout the entire trial, not merely the death penalty portion. And her implication that Cory is guilty of manslaughter, even as he is still early in his appeal process, I would think is grounds for an ethics complaint.
The hearing kicked off on Wednesday at about 10:15am. That’s the courthouse above. Poplarville, Mississippi is the county seat of Pearl River County, and the home of the district court serving Pearl River and the surrounding counties. It’s also apparently “the blueberry capital of Mississippi.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any blueberries for sale.
The courthouse itself was dedicated in 1918 — a World War I and confederate veterans memorial sits out front. It’s a nice building for its age. The walls, floors, and stairs are marble, and the offices inside have opaque windows with retro stenciling.
The courtroom was…well…rather courtroom-ish. The bench, gallery, and paneling were made of a light wood — oak, I’d guess. The seats provided for the attorneys were maroon pinned leather. There were large windows on either side, covered in wood-ish horizontal blinds.
In To Kill a Mockinbird fashion, there was a gallery extending along the from the back along to the left side of the courtroom (from the observer’s perspective). There was no one in the gallery, but the seats on the floor were about 3/4 full the first day, and about 1/4 full on the second.
The first day, Cory’s mother Dorothy Funchess had talked to her pastor and rounded up a large contingent from the church to come out in support of Cory. By my count, 47 black folks in Sunday attire made the trip. Among those I recognized: Funchess, Cory’s aunt, Cory’s father Robert Brown, Cory Jr., Cory’s brother, his uncle, his pastor, and Michelle Longino, Tacorriana’s grandmother. Funchess brought dress shirts, slacks, and ties for Cory to wear, though his attorneys decided to keep him in the prison attire.
Ron Jones’ family and friends, and about a half-dozen large, buzz-cutted police officers — someone told me they were Mississippi Highway Patrol — sat on the prosecution side of the aisle. There were, obviously, others present I didn’t recognize.
Cory was guarded by a team from the Jefferson Davis County Sheriff’s Department, which as I’ve noted in the Reason article, is mostly black, as is the sheriff, Henry McCullum. The courtroom itself was protected by officers from the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department. They were mostly old-timers, quite friendly and gregarious. They were also pretty casual. The bailif wore a collared shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans with his badge and gun.
Jerry Mitchell of Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger was there, as was a reporter and camera from the NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg. Bob Evans’ wife and three of his kids sat just to my right.
There were some accoustic problems at first. But they managed to turn up the microphones after lunch on Wednesday. The place was well air conditioned — one of just a few missing pieces to keep the two days from unfolding like some classic southern courtroom drama. I don’t know, I guess I sorta’ want some perspiration and fan-flicking in my southern courtroom scenes.
The prosecution was seated to the observer’s left, the defense to the right.
Cory was kept in the jury room, just to the right and rear of the bench. He sat at the far end of a long table, guarded by 5-6 sheriff’s deputies. About ten minutes before the hearing, they brought him out in his prison-issue bright red jumper, white socks, and thin, brown, thong sandals. He was smiling, of course. But nervously.
The parents of Ron Jones were present at the hearing last week. I’m sure that there’s very little on which Ron Jones, Sr. and I would see eye to eye. And I’m sure that the friends and family of Officer Jones aren’t very happy with me. But I do want to note that Mr. and Mrs. Jones both looked to be in a great deal of pain throughout the hearing. And despite that they and I obviously disagree about what happened that night, and what ought to happen over the next few months, I am sure that their pain is very real, that losing and adult son must be excruciatingly awful, and that to that end, they deserve a great deal of sympathy. I did feel for them.
I’ll get into the details later, but one of the more unfortunate conclusions the defense team was forced to draw in light of the discovery of Randy Gentry was that Ron Jones likely misrepresented the evidence in obtaining the warrant for Cory Maye’s apartment. I’m sure that hearing this new bit of information at the hearing only compounded their agony. Unfortunately, it now seems to be the most probable and likely version of events. To my mind, this isn’t an indictment of Jones’ character — he was by all accounts was a decent man and a good cop — but rather an indictment of the nature of drug policing, and the “war” mentality and lack of oversight that make these kinds of Fourth Amendment shortcuts routine.
I’ll get into the how and why of all of this later. But I do want to emphasize that for all the bigotry, corruption, and ugliness I’ve found while reporting on this case, none of that sticks to the late Officer Jones. Black and white, residents of Prentiss I’ve spoken with have had only kind words for him, even among those with rather low opinions of the police in general. I happen to think Officer Jones made a fatal error that evening. But my guess is that he made it not out of any inherent corruption, racism or other ill-motivation, but because he genuinely thought a shortcut here and there were rather inconsequential to his larger mission — getting illicit drugs out of Prentiss. That shouldn’t — and from my perspective doesn’t — do much of anything to otherwise taint his memory and reputation.
But it is a crucial bit of information in giving Cory Maye a fair crack at real justice. And unfortunately, it’s a necessary part of any real accounting of this case. If that’s how it happened — and I believe it is — Jones’ misrepresentation cost him his life that night. And I’d argue that we ought to do what we can to keep the number of tragedies resulting from it at one, not two.
My Reason article on the Cory Maye case is now online.
It’s a lengthy summary of the case up until about a couple of weeks ago. So it doesn’t include anything about the charming Randy Gentry or last week’s hearing.
But if you’re looking to introduce someone to the case, I think it’s a pretty comprehensive accounting of what’s happened so far.
I met Cory for the first time on Wednesday, about an hour before the hearing began. He was dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, white tube socks, and prison-issue brown thong sandals. He also wore the same light goatee visible in prior pictures of him.
I’ve written a bit before about Cory’s smile — or at least what his attorney Bob Evans has told me about it. In just about any other context, it’d be a smile you’d describe as infectious, ingratiating, and warm. The guy lights up a room.
In the context of a death penalty trial, however, that insistent smile couldn’t have helped him. Death penalty defendants, of course, aren’t supposed to light up a room.
Cory showed the same smile the moment I walked into the room to meet him. He was gracious, respectful, and a little shy. I didn’t find smile the least bit smirky or disrespectful or discourteous. But given that two and a half years ago, it was coming from a man on trial for his life, I could see how a juror might. I don’t know how to explain it. The guy just smiles a lot. It’s just there.
We didn’t discuss any specifics of the case, of course. And the entire conversation lasted only about ten minutes. But he expressed his gratitude for all the support he’s received, and for all everyone’s doing on his behalf. He specifically asked that I pass on his appreciation for the support from people who have never met him. Evans regularly prints out the blog posts, comments, and supportive messages around the Internet, and sends them to Cory at Parchman. He’s received letters from all over the world. And they’re great for his mood.
I was actually struck by how placid he seemed. He was doe-eyed, soft-spoken, and of course, smiling. Not what I had expected from a condemned man. I’d expect even an innocent man to have been a bit hardened by some 30 months on death row.
Evans tells me Cory has never complained or gotten angry about what’s happened to him, though he of course maintains his innocence. He says Cory still refers to Ron Jones — a man he met for the first time as Jones broke into his home, and the man who is one big reason Cory is in the predicament he’s in — as “Mister Ron,” a term of affection and respect in the South. If you’ll remember, that’s consistent with the way Cory described Jones in his letter to a supporter I posted a while back. To me anyway, that’s a remarkable display of grace and forgiveness.
I saw little bitterness or resentment in Cory. Not that it would speak any less of them if someone in his position were to show some anger. Still, I saw none. Note in the letter linked above, he says he “holds no grudges,” remarkable in that it’s a letter written from a jail cell. In the short time I spoke with him, his primary emotion was gratitude. Evans says Cory’s feelings about the case are rather stoic. He often says, simply, “It’s in y’all’s hands, and it’s in God’s hands.”
Just after I met with Cory, his son Cory, Jr. went with Covington attorney Jess Gabels to meet his father for a few private moments in the jury room before the hearing. I couldn’t see what transpired inside, but Cory Jr. did not come back to the courtroom sad or dejected to see his dad in shackles, frigthened, or anxious. On the contrary. The kid was walking on air — strutting, really, back to his seat — and proudly showing off the same broad grin he’d inherited from the man he’d just hugged (for the first time in several years). Just one of several times over the last couple of days that I’ve had to choke back a lump in my throat.
On death row, Cory was permitted only non-contact visits, which means hasn’t allowed to touch his kids when they visited him. I’m not sure how things work for prisoners in the general population at Parchman. But if he gets to now have some real visits with them, where he can touch them and hug them and hold them, that’ll be one very real, very tangible, very positive thing to have come from Thursday’s ruling.
You should read all of the above while keeping in mind my own and Evans’ own biases, of course. But one thing that became very clear to me this week is that this is not the kind of man who be should be subjected to the most severe punishments allowed by our criminal justice system. He clearly isn’t a threat to society. He isn’t dangerous. He isn’t even a petty threat — remember, the guy had no prior criminal record. This is no Tookie Williams.
Seems to me that death penalty supporters should rally to Cory Maye’s cause. Because if the guy I met and heard described in court testimony this week can be executed, then it’s not an exceptional punishment, it isn’t reserved for the most heinous of crimes and dangerous of offenders, and the moral case for keeping it around rests on a pretty flimsy foundation. If this guy gets executed, for doing what just about any of us would have likely done in the same situation, then just about any of us could well be where he’s sitting right now.
Many thank-yous to all the kind email and blog posts commending my involvement in Cory’s case.
I’m not going to project false modesty here — if Cory may does walk free one day, it’ll likely be the highlight of my career. Still, my contribution to this has been relatively easy. I found a story that leaped off the computer screen as an outrage, and I wrote about it, and I have since continued to write about it. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this case, but it’s time and effort that, had I not been spending on this case, would probably have been spending on some other drug war idiocy. I should also credit my employer, which has been really supportive of my spending time on this case.
I think the bulk of the credit should go to Cory’s legal team, all of whom have worked tirelessly — and without compensation — for months. The Covington and Burling firm deserves a ton of credit for its generosity, but I think particular credit should go to Bob Evans who not only lost a paying gig as public defender in direct retaliation for his decision to represent Cory, but every minute he spends on Cory’s case is a minute he could be spending on his private defense practice, with paying clients. Bob’s doing this because passionately believes in Cory’s innocence. But it doesn’t change the fact that representing Cory is undoubtedly costing him money.
All of that said, Cory’s life is far from saved. Thursday’s ruling was certainly a victory, but we’re still a long way from real justice in this case. There’s still the possibility he could be again get death at the new sentencing trial. I think odds are against that happening, for reasons I’ll get into later, but it’s still a very real possibility.
I’m also a little concerned that should Cory’s sentence be reduced to the death penalty to life in prison, his cause will lose some momentum. Life without parole doesn’t carry nearly the same sex appeal as a looming date with the death chamber. I hope that doesn’t happen — I hope the people who’ve done great work promoting this will case continue to write about it and call attention to it. An innocent life spent in prison isn’t a life saved. Cory’s two kids will still grow up without a dad. And a good guy will still wrongly waste away his life in a jail cell.
Thursday brought wonderful news. But there’s still a long, long way to go.
Here’s the audio of the charming Mr. Gentry’s answering machine message.
Check here if you’d like to read along with the transcript.
I also received the following email late last week:
Look, I know this fella and you’re right, he is unreliable and not very credible. Very much a racist. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “hate niggers” come out of his mouth. Credibility should be thrown right out. Ask Mr. Gentry about his music tapes he has about bashing blacks. I am telling you this man is totally out to get blacks. He has stated in the past he would rat out a “nigger” in a heart beat. He is just a senile old man. Good luck.
I’ve been corresponding with another resident of Prentiss and a good friend of Ron Jones’ for several months now. This particular person was originally quite upset with me, but I think has now begun to suspect that perhaps something isn’t right about this case. She too says Mr. Gentry is well-known around Prentiss and Jefferson Davis County to be a bigot. At the hearing this week, one of the more bizarre arguments by District Attorney Buddy McDonald was that Mr. Gentry’s memory and state of mind have probably impaired by his lifelong abuse of drugs and alcohol. If that’s the case, why the hell was he being used as an informant in the first place?
I’ll get into why Mr. Gentry’s bigotry matters with respect to Cory’s case when I talk about his testimony at the hearing. But one thing his involvement in all of this ought to do is raise some serious questions about the use of informants, and about why courts often allow prosecutors to keep their identities secret, even in cases like this one, where a defendant’s fate may turn on the informant’s credibility. Judges give almost complete deference to police officers when they attest to the reliability of an informant in search warrant requests. There’s virtually no oversight at all. In the Overkill paper, I talk about one wrong door raid in New York City a few years ago in which an informant described by the police as “reliable” had just a 44 percent record of success.
In Cory’s case, the trial transcripts show that Judge Kruger — the man who signed off on the warrants — conceded on the stand that he didn’t ask Ron Jones much of anything about the reliability of the informant. Jones’ assertion in the affidavit that Gentry’s tip had led to at least one previous arrest was all that was necessary to estabish his credibility. No mention of his obvious and well-known biases. No mention of how many times his tips didn’t lead to an arrest. No mention of Mr. Gentry’s own problems with substance abuse.
So I have to ask…
If it was well known around town that Mr. Gentry is a raving racist who “hates niggers,” why did the police continue to use him as an informant in cases against black people? How many times has Mr. Gentry been described in a search warrant affidavit as “credible and reliable” when it’s now quite clear that not only should police have known that that’s not the case, but even the man’s own brother doesn’t consider him to be either? How many black people are in jail based in whole or in part on the word of Randy Gentry? How many more peope like Randy Gentry are serving as confidential informants — in Mississippi or anywhere else?
These aren’t rhetorical questions.
Before I go into my long-winded analysis over the next few days, you might take a look at Jerry Mitchell’s pithy wrap-up in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Mitchell sat across the aisle from me both days. You might also have a look at his piece on the testimony of the excellently-named Jack Daniel, a medical examiner hired by the defense team who cast some significant doubt on the conclusions offered up by Prosecutor Buddy McDonald and Dr. Steven Hayne, the man who performed the autopsy on Officer Ron Jones.
Cory Maye will not sleep on death row tonight. Nor, for that matter, any night for the foreseeable future.
At the conclusion of the hearing today, Judge Michael Eubanks ruled on two of the defense team’s battery of arguments. Both rulings from the bench tonight dealt with Rhonda Cooper’s competence. Judge Eubanks found that Ms. Cooper was competent for the trial, but incompetent for the sentencing.
I have my quarrels with that ruling, obviously. But in the short run, it means that Cory will at the very least get a new sentencing trial. And until and if that happens, he will no longer be on death row — and for the moment is no longer condemned to die.
Judge Eubanks did not issue a ruling on any of the other defense arguments — and there were lots of them. It may be a month or more before we hear what he has decided. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. Empahsis on the “cautiously.” I’ll get into the “why” on that — once again — a bit later. There is also some reason to think that today’s ruling may very well permanently spare Cory’s life. I’ll get into that later, too.
It’s been an amazing couple of days. I felt at times as if I were watching a movie.
I have about 60 pages of notes from the hearing. Once I get back to D.C. tomorrow, I plan to sit down at the computer, and over the weekend, walk you through the last 48 hours.
But now? I have something to celebrate. And my hotel is, literally, right on Bourbon Street. You should be able to figure out where I go from here. Be back when I’m sober.
Mr. Randy Gentry testified today at Cory Maye’s hearing. He’s the confidential informant whose tip led to the raid. He’s also been the CI in several other drug busts in and around Prentiss, Mississippi.
And holy hell. You couldn’t cast a better villain. He’s a 51-year old guy with white hair pulled back into a ponytail, a long, white beard, and wears glasses in dark round frames. He’s illiterate (or, in his words, he “aint much with words”), and according to the district attorney (who wants to undermine Mr. Gentry’s credibility now that we’re post-trial, and his story his damaging to the prosecution), he’s something of a “doper” himself.
Before I indulge you with the transcript of Mr. Gentry’s rant on lead counsel Bob Evans’ answering machine from a couple of weeks ago, let’s recap the set-up:
The defense team had just found Mr. Gentry through a private investigator. He agreed to meet with the investigator and Bob Evans, and there was some talk about covering his gas fare to the meeting. But Mr. Gentry soon realized the investigator was working for the defense, and clammed up. He missed two scheduled meetings with the defense team the next day (they’d later discover that he had gone to the sheriff’s department to “turn himself in.”)
At that, Bob Evans called and informed Mr. Gentry that he could either testify voluntarily, or be compelled to testify in court. It’s at that point that Mr. Gentry left the following message on Evans’ machine:
Wednesday, 8:38 a.m.
Yeah, this is Mr. Randy Gentry. Hey, I got to thinkin’ about my friend. I got yo’ message this morning, Bob. Y’all — y’all threaten me all you want to and everything. I don’t like fuckin’ niggers from jump street but call me or whatever and I’ll — but the day I burn five cents on gas to help that fuckin’ cocksucker Cory Maye get out of jail is going to be a hell of a damn day. But — uh — if you want ot talk to me like a fuckin’ white man, you talk. But don’t threaten me on bullshit. Get your NAACP motherfuckers — I don’t give a fuck — niggers, bro, fuck niggers! But I’ll tell you what. That’s a good friend of mine they killed, buddy. I’ll — I’ll tell you anything. I’ll — I’ll be honest with you as fuckin’ gum (?) street. But I don’t like no motherfucker talkin’ shit to me or about my friends. Alright, well look here. Call me today and look here. Y’all buy my fuckin’ gas, the NAACP buy my fuckin’ gas I’ll come talk to y’all or whatever. But look here. I’m — I’m a poor-ass motherfucker too, bro. Call me. You got my fuckin’ number. Don’t piss me fuckin’ off.
This is the “reliable,” “trustworthy” informant who made the raid on Mary Street possible. He’s also likely put quite a few other black folks in jail over the last few years.
I’ll have more on the charming Mr. Gentry later. The guy is the antonym of “credible witness.” As noted in the Clarion-Ledger article linked below, Gentry’s own brother’s testimony directly contradicts just about everything he said today (his brother’s testimony actually jibes somewhat with the search warrants, though in the small ways it differs, it helps Cory Maye’s case — more on that later, too).
But I’m thinking the colorful passage above ought to suffice for now.
Oh, and I haven’t the slightest idea where the NAACP came from. I guess if a black man has a lawyer, it must be either the ACLU or the NAACP.
I’m in Mississippi for the Cory Maye hearing.
Actually, I’m staying in New Orleans, but commuting to the hearing in Poplarville.
I have a lot to report, but there has been no decision about a new trial.
Much more to come.
In the meantime, check out this piece on this afternoon’s proceedings in Jackson’s Clarion Ledger.
Cory Maye’s defense team has filed its reply brief in his post-trail motions for a directed not-guilty verdict and/or a new trial. Read it here.
As was the case with the original motion, the brief is terrific — thorough and devastatingly persuasive.
If the possibility of a new trial exists at all — and apparently it does, at least in theory — you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a set of facts more compelling than those outlined in the two defense briefs filed by Cory’s defense team — particularly when coupled with the prosecution’s paltry response. Put another way, it seems to me that the injustices we’ve seen in this case are the very reason why the criminal justice system would allow for a new trial in the first place. Not to mention the newly discovered evidence about the informant.
The hearing is this Wednesday.
Here’s the news I promised you yesterday:
One of the Covington attorneys noticed early after they took the case that the autopsy on Ron Jones reported that Jones had written a phone number on his hand. The team hired a private investigator, and after some leg work, managed to track down the guy who owned the number at the time of the raid.
Gold. The number eventually led to the informant who tipped Ron Jones off to the raid on the Cory Maye-Jamie Smith duplex. The guy’s a real piece of work. I can’t go into too much detail right now, but the story the informant told Covington’s private investigator is dramatically different than the description given in Ron Jones’ affidavits for the search warrants. The details between the two accounts aren’t even close. I’ll get into the rammifications of the discprencies a bit later.
For now? Well, here’s where it gets fun.
After the guy realized the investigator was working for the defense team, he clammed up. When Bob Evans — Cory Maye’s lead attorney — called to tell him that if he didn’t talk, they’d compell his testimony with a subpeona, the informant flipped out. He called Evans, and left a rant on Evans’ answering maching that, when Evans played it for me the other night, blew my mind. It’s a 45-second clip of absolute fury, brimming with f-bombs, anger, hate, and — by my count — at least four utterances of the word “nigger.”
This is the “trustworthy” informant whose tip led to the raid on Cory Maye’s home. An unabashed bigot. Makes you wonder how many other black people have been raided, arrested, and imprisoned based on this guy’s tips. Not to mention how many ignoramouses like him are still turning people in down in Mississippi — or, for that matter, anywhere else.
I’ll have much, much more on this after the September 20th hearing.
Needless to say, for the moment, this new development shoots a mile-wide hole in the already suspect case against Cory Maye.
It also ought to have repercussions well above and beyond Cory’s case. Every person this guy has ever put behind bars deserves to have his case reexamined.
More broadly, all of this is yet more evidence in the sad, growing, and already overwhelming sea of evidence against the use of shady informants in door-busting drug raids.
There’s some explosive new evidence in the Cory Maye case.
I should know later today just how much I can share with you, and to what detail.
At the moment, I can only tell you that it’s good news for Maye’s cause.
And it’s pretty shocking.
My article on Cory Maye for Reason magazine should be on your local newsstand by now. I’m as proud of the piece as anything I’ve written, so if you’ve been following the case, do me a favor and go pick it up. The cover looks like this:
I’ll also be discussing the article tonight on the Alan Colmes radio show at 11pm ET. Listen here.
UPDATE: I don’t think I’ve posted yet, but Maye’s hearing for a new trial has been postponed again, to September 20.
I’ll have more on this later. But my general impression is that the two briefs aren’t even close. The reply reads more like an exasperated prosecution team fed up and overwhelmed merely going through the motions than serious lawyers making serious arguments. They ignore most of the defense arguments, and fall back on emotion (police work long hours for low pay, and deserve protection) and seem almost to be hoping the judge ignores the defense brief in favor of the notion that new trials are, simply, almost never awarded.
The respone to the Wheeler precedent is particularly paltry. The prosecution makes no effort at all to distinguish the facts from Maye’s case to those in Wheeler. Instead, the prosecution creates a strawman version of what the defense deduced to be the holding in Wheeler, then retreats, again, to emotional arguments about all the hard, dangerous work law enforcement officers do.
Given the strength of the Covington-Kerr-Evans brief, I actually expected the DA’s office to shop the reply out, or at least bump it up to the Mississippi attorney general’s office. I’m a bit surprised that they attempted to tackle it on their own. Maybe their hubris will come back to bite them.
The hearing is in about a month. A new trial is still a long shot. But I don’t know how a reasonable person could read the two briefs and feel it isn’t warranted.
Maye’s hearing for a new trial has been rescheduled for September 8. This could very well change again.
As of this afternoon, the prosecution had yet to file its response to the defense team’s outstanding brief.
Cory Maye’s hearing for a new trial has been postponed.
Apparently, the prosecution has yet to file its response to the defense’s motion, so there’s been no date set for the postponement.
The hearing will likely be moved back to as late as August or September.
Next week, Cory Maye will have his hearing for a new trial. The optimal outcome, of course, would be for Judge Ewbanks to issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and find insufficient evidence for Maye’s conviction. That would free him on the spot. That’s also by far the least likely outcome. The second best outcome would be a new trial. On this possibility, Maye’s lawyers have expressed some cautious optimism. Others I’ve spoken with say if there were a judge in Mississippi you’d want to hear this motion, it’s Judge Ewbanks. The least desirable, and unfortunately most likely, scenario would be a denial of both requests, in which case Maye would file his one-shot appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
A bit of background on the death penalty in Mississippi:
At first blush, it would seem that Maye’s odds at the state supreme court might be favorable. Surprisingly, Mississippi has executed just three men since 1989. Given the inactivity, you’d think that a case with facts as compelling as Maye’s would eventually get him out of Parchman.
Unfortunately, there’s more to the story. When I was in Jackson last March, I spoke with Andre de Gruy, who heads up Mississippi’s Capital Defense Counsel. The Capital Defense Counsel is a state-funded legal aid group started up after Mississippi endured a barrage of criticism from the federal courts for its lack of help for post-conviction death penalty cases. Were it not for Bob Evans and the Covington team, they’d likely be representing Cory Maye.
De Gruy told me there are two reasons why Mississippi hasn’t executed many people over the last eighteen years. The first is that from 1983 to 1992, the supreme court had a justice named James “Jimmy” Robertson (in Mississippi, supreme court justics are elected to eight-year terms). Robertson (here’s a fascinating background story that may have helped shape Robertson’s views) wasn’t a dogmatic opponent of the death penalty, but was careful in its application. With Robertson’s leadership, the court overturned a number of convictions too iffy for the finality of the gas chamber. Robertson was voted off the court in 1992 by a “law and order” candidate who painted the justice as soft on crime (one issue used in the campaign was Robertson refusal to administer the death penalty for rape alone). It was during Robertson’s term that the court issued its decision in the Wheeler case, a case that’ll be very difficult for the current court to distinguish from the facts in Cory Maye’s case.
The second and more influential reason for the dearth of executions in Mississippi is a bit more foreboding.
In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Godfrey v. Georgia that the state of Georgia’s death penalty instructions to jurors were overly vague. Georgia instructed jurors to administer the death penalt if they found a crime to be “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman.” At the time, Mississippi’s death penalty instructions included the phrase, “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.” Despite the obvious similarities and vagueries, Mississippi decided to stick with its jury instructions, in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Godfrey, on the assumption that the inclusion of the word “especially” somehow made the instructions less vague.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Warden v. Cartwright that Oklahoma’s instructions, identical to Mississippi’s right down to the word “especially” were also unconstitutionally vague. With that, Mississippi finally changed its jury instructions, but maintained that everyone convicted and currently on Death Row as a result of the flawed instructions weren’t affected by the ruling in Cartwright, because it was a “new rule.” Finally, in the 1992 case of Stringer v. Black, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Mississippi no alternative. The Court basically rebuked the state, and issued an order that required Mississippi to reevaluate all of its death penalty cases since the 1982 Godfrey decision. All of those cases that had to be redone after the Stringer decision have just in the last few years begun to make their way through the appeals process, toward execution.
In other words, Mississippi’s dry spell in executing people between 1989 and around 2000 wasn’t so much due to the state’s judicious application of capital punishment as it was due to its sheer stubbornness. De Gruy estimates that within the next several years, as all of those cases affected by Stringer exhaust their appeals, the state could well end up executing 30 or more men per year.
I don’t mean to be too negative, here. De Gruy was pessimistic about the state’s supreme court offering any of relief for Cory Maye. But one other well-connected person I spoke with in Jackson, a man who has the ear of several justices on the state’s high court, seemed to think at least a few of them might be sympathetic.
All of that said, if the hearing next week doesn’t go well, my own opinion is that Maye’s best hope lies in the federal courts. I don’t know how any federal judge could read the brief filed by his legal team last month and think this guy ought to be executed.
Only tangentially related to the Maye case, but here’s one more data point supporting the notion that there’s an unfortunate “cowboy” menatality that pervades drug cops in South Central Mississippi. Got this email this morning. The sender wishes to remain anonymous for the time being.
First of all, thank you for the work you are doing concerning Cory Maye. You are bringing much-needed attention to this travesty.
I am a registered pharmacist in Covington County, MS, which adjoins Jefferson Davis County. On July 1st of last year, new legislation went into effect in Mississippi requiring all solid-dose pseudoephedrine products to be moved behind the pharmacy counter. This did not include the liquid dosage forms. (These were later added to the list.)
Long story short: On July 2nd, one day after this new law went into effect, an off-duty member of the Drug Task Force came in to my store and raised hell about the Sudafed Liqui-Gels on the shelves. He removed them, and dumped them on the pharmacy counter. He then told my pharmacy technician that we were in violation of the law, and that he was a DEA agent. We reread the regulations, concluded he was wrong, and put the products back on the shelf.
Mr. off-duty cop then came back into the store, saw what we had done, and threw a fit. At this point, as pharmacy manager, I decided to get involved. We gowent and forth. I showed him a copy of the regulations, at which point he threatened to “turn in” the store manager to the State Attorney General for her “attitude”. Fed up, I replied, “Get the hell out of my store before I call somebody.”
He told me I’d be going to jail. He briefly left, then returned with a uniformed cop. They handcuffed me, roughed me up, shoved me through the store, and took me to jail. I informed him from the beginning that the law requierd me to close the pharmacy. He responded with, “Shut up, boy.” The pharmacy was left open with only a technician present, a felony in Mississippi.
I was not read any Miranda rights, never saw a badge until the 2nd cop appeared, had numerous bruises on my left arm, both wrists, and my right shoulder was displaced (I managed to correct this while lying on the concrete bunk in the jail).
I spent 3.5 hours in jail before my father bailed me out, and I came back to work.
I have had 2 speeding tickets in my 39 years on planet Earth. Nothing else, until now. I am a family man with 2 daughters. I’m a practicing Southern Baptist and a die-hard Republican, (until now). I do wear my hair long and play drums (which equates to Satanism here in good old Mississippi), and I did marry one of those New Orleans girls (also not looked upon favorably).
My employer dissuaded me from speaking to the media or filing charges. The charges against me (public profanity and disturbing the peace) were dropped after the sheriff personally visited my father 3 times asking that everything be forgotten. In December, I decided to risk losing my job and secured legal counsel. My lawyer has filed a federal civil rights case against Covington County, the officer, and the unnamed cop that assisted. My employer knows nothing about this suit, and I still fear I will lose my job because they don’t want the publicity.
I am sending this to you because I applaud your stand against the police-state this country is becoming, and I wanted to lend a bit of background on the Pearl River Drug Task Force.
Thank you for the great job you’re doing. I’m getting the word out down here.
Think these guys aren’t capable of kicking down a door without announcing first?
Cory Maye’s attorneys have filed their brief in their motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdice or a new trial. The hearing takes place next month.
If you’ve read anything at all about this case, I’d urge you to take a look at the brief. I realize that a brief’s legal effectiveness is a very different thing than its general pursuasiveness, particularly briefs filed in almost perfunctory post-trial motions like this one. Since I’m not really qualified to comment on its legal merits, I’ll keep my comments limited to its general pursuasiveness.
To that end, it’s devastating. The difference between the top-notch legal representation Cory Maye has now and the minimal representation he had at trial is striking (and frightening, given the stakes). I can’t see anyone reading this thing through and still believing that Maye is the slightest bit guilty, much less that he should be executed. At worst, you could perhaps make the case that Maye acted recklessly, and might have been tried for manslaughter. I wouldn’t agree. But I probably wouln’t be making trips to Mississippi to investigate, or blathering endlessly on my blog, either. Of course, I still think the guy should not only be released from prison, but compensated.
Covington and Burling hired their own forensic expert and their own crime scene investigator to reexamine the autopsy on Ron Jones, the evidence at the scene of the crime, and a number of pieces of evidence that were never brought up at trial, including Jones’ clothing. Both of Covington’s experts have impeccable bona fides. As for the prosecution’s forensics witness, Dr. Steven Hayne, there’s plenty of reason to find him suspect. I’ll get into that a bit later. In any case, I think the exhibits they’ve submitted with the brief leave Dr. Hayne’s testimony in tatters.
A few new items from the brief that jump out at me:
It also makes Jamie Smith’s disappearance — or rather, the fact that officials in Prentiss were so lax in keeping him around — all the more suspicious. Why would they let the only witnesses to a cop’s death, and a guy with a history of drug dealing, skip town so easily?
I don’t know if the brief will win the guy a new trial. But it’s an outstanding piece of pursuasive writing. Bob Evans, the Covington and Burling team, and Orin Kerr deserve a ton of credit for the work they’ve done.
Ralph Luker details a case that doesn’t bode well for Cory Maye’s chances of getting a pardon from Haley Barbour.
In this case, Governor Barbour has agreed that a black man was framed by officials in Missisippi in the 1950s for the crime of attempting to matriculate at the then-all white Southern Mississippi University. Since then, records have revealed that not only was the man framed, but the some state officials had actually considered killing him for the crime of attempting to integrate the school.
Today, Southern Miss names a building after the man, Clyde Kennard, and observes a “Clyde Kannard Day.”
So how ’bout a posthumous pardon for his wrongful conviction? Luker writes:
Governor Haley Barbour issued the proclamation for it ["Clyde Kennard Day"] and now believes that Kennard was grievously “wronged.” So, why does this case have implications for any hope to save Cory Maye’s life? Governor Barbour’s spokesman, Pete Smith, says that it makes no difference whether the state’s parole board recommends a posthumous pardon for Clyde Kennard. “The governor hasn’t pardoned anyone, be it alive or deceased,” said Mr. Barbour’s spokesman. “The governor isn’t going to issue a pardon here.”
This, I’m afraid, is also the impression I got while I was in Mississippi. I talked to a couple of people close to Barbour, and both said that the facts of the Maye case don’t really matter. Haley Barbour simply doesn’t believe in pardons or clemency. One man who has Barbour’s ear told me the governnor won’t even read a pardon petition.
When this story first picked up steam in the blogosphere, I thought that if enough high-profile people on the right spoke out in Maye’s defense, Barbour would perhaps have the political cover he’d need to grant a pardon. That’s still possible, but its seems far less likely to me than it did before I went to Mississippi.
Maye’s best hope right now is a new trial. But if things go poorly over the next couple of years, and Maye’s last hope rests with clemency, it would probably be best for him if someone other than Haley Barbour were in the governor’s mansion.