Category: Cory Maye

Cory Maye Update

Friday, December 15th, 2006

No real news from the hearing this week.

Judge Eubanks did rule on a new defense motion, and found that Rhonda Cooper was again competent during the guilt phase of Maye’s trial, this time with respect to her failure to discover the identity of the confidential informant.

One of the requirements for newly discovered evidence to be able to force a new trial is that it can’t be evidence that could or should have been discovered in the original trial. It’s a sucky rule if you happen to have an incompetent, overworked, or under-motivated lawyer.

In Cory’s case, though, the defense is arguing that the informant’s identity is such a vital piece of evidence that’s crucial to determining his guilt or innocence that if the judge determines that it could or should have been discovered by Rhonda Cooper, then she must be declared incompetent for not having discovered it. Yesterday, Judge Eubanks ruled that she was not incompetent for not having discovered it.

That doesn’t mean he can’t still order a new trial on the CI stuff. It just means that if he does, it would be under the assumption that the CI’s identity couldn’t have been determined during the guilt phase, not an unreasonable assumption, given that at the time, Cory didn’t have the means to hire a private investigator to track the guy down. And of course, it’s still possible that he’ll rule against Cory on this issue — that the newly discovered evidence regarding the CI isn’t enough to merit a new trial.

Judge Eubanks also held off ruling on the numerous other defense arguments.

Cory Maye Update

Monday, December 11th, 2006

There’s a hearing this Wednesday in Monticello, MS.

Attorneys from both sides will present oral arguments pertaining to the defense team’s motion regarding the newly discovered evidence about the identity of the confidential informant.

As I understand it, there’s a chance Judge Eubanks may issue some rulings from the bench. Or he could take some more time to mull it over. So we may have good news Wednesday evening. Or bad news. Or no news at all.

Stay tuned. I’ll post PDF files of the amended motions pertaining to the informant later this week.

Self Promotion

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

I’m mentioned/quoted in this Christian Science Monitor piece and this Popular Mechanics piece, the latter written by Instapundit Glenn Reynolds.

Both are on paramilitary police raids. The Popular Science piece has a pretty nifty cartoon, too.

Both also mention Cory Maye.

Self Promotion

Friday, October 6th, 2006
  • I have a piece on Cory Maye in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution. You can also listen to me discuss the case here on a Cato podcast.
  • I’m quoted in this Fox News article on junk food in public schools.
  • I’m also quoted in this NY Press piece on trans fats.
  • And in this Max Borders article on traffic cameras in the Washington Examiner.
  • One thing I was hoping might happen with the botched raid map is that people would use it to find mishaps near where they live, then use those incidents in an op-ed or letter to the editor. Ron Fraser of the DKT Liberty Project did just that. Fraser wrote an op-ed on the overuse of SWAT teams, then sent it to papers all over the country. But he localized the piece by substituting in different incidents that took place near where the paper is published. By my count, he has placed the piece in several papers in Texas, as well as papers in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Here’s one in the Roanoke Times.
  • Cory Maye and the Wheeler Case

    Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

    One of the more interesting aspects of last month’s hearing was the role the case of Mississippi v. Wheeler will play in Judge Eubanks coming rulings and, if necessary, in the rest of Cory’s appeals process.

    As noted on this site shortly after I first found Cory’s case, Wheeler seems to be directly on point, and can’t be distinguished from the facts in Cory Maye’s case in any way that’s not favorable to Maye. In Wheeler, a team of uniformed police officers entered Mr. Wheeler’s home to arrest him. They entered in broad daylight. Mr. Wheeler resisted, and engaged in a struggle with two officers. During that struggle, he took possession of one of the officers’ sidearm. He then fired at a figure in the doorway, which happened to be a fourth, uniformed officer. The Mississippi state Supreme Court ruled that as a matter of law, jurors could not have concluded that Mr. Wheeler knew the figure in the doorway was a police officer when he fired. They set aside his capital murder conviction and death sentence, but kept intact his murder conviction and life sentence.

    Wheeler has not been overruled or distinguished since. Now contrast the facts in Wheeler with the facts in Maye’s case. Officers in Wheeler approached during the day, in Maye’s case they came at night. In Wheeler, the officers were uniformed. In Maye’s case, Jones was wearing a dark vest, dark pants, and shirt that were unmarked, save for two small patches on the side of either shoulder. In Wheeler, the defendant had ever reason to suspect the figure he shot at was a police officer, given that he was already struggling with uniformed officers. In Maye’s case, there was no direct line to the outside of the apartment. Maye was also sleeping. And he lived next to a reputed drug dealer.

    As defense attorney Abe Pafford argued at the hearing, the only evidence the prosecution offered suggesting Maye should have known the men outside his home were police was the officers’ testimony that they repeatedly announced themselves, and one officers’ testimony that he saw someone peer out the window shortly after they arrived. The latter testimony is suspect given that it doesn’t jibe with the same officer’s testimony given shortly after the raid, and that he actually changed his testimony on the stand at trial, at the prodding of DA Buddy McDonald. Even then, that officer — Stephen Jones — ultimately conceded on cross-examination that he didn’t see anyone peer out. So it’s disingenuous for the prosecution to cite Jones’ original testimony without pointing out that he eventually changed it in a way quite favorable to Maye. As for the announcement, the defense correctly noted that the only officer to testify at trial who was actually inside the duplex when the raid took place — officer Darryl Graves, who was in Smith’s half of the duplex — said on the stand that he couldn’t hear any announcement.

    Of course, even if Maye did hear the announcement, Wheeler says you still can’t automatically assume he knew the man who broke into his home was a police officer. He could have been a criminal fleeing the scene of the raid next door, for example.

    Now, you can disagree with the merits of Wheeler. But there’s no disputing the fact that it is on-point, and it’s the controlling case law. Again, there’s no way to honestly distinguish the case from Maye’s case in a way that doesn’t favor Maye.

    The prosecution knows this. In their brief, their only response to the defense team’s invocation of Wheeler was to quote from the dissent. And here’s how McDonald addresses Wheeler at the hearing:

    With respect to Wheeler we agree with the dissent. We feel that Wheeler is an unusual case and we don’t think that Wheeler should control this case and frankly we hope that there’s — will be an opportunity for Wheeler to be readdressed by the Court and put in the proper context.

    That’s it. They don’t explain why or how the Wheeler case can be distinguished. They only say they hope it’s overturned, or “put in the proper context.”

    It’s quite possible that all of that might happen. Remember back to the brief history of Mississippi and the death penalty I relayed to you a couple of months ago. Wheeler was decided at a time when Mississippi’s Supreme Court — which is elected — was unusually humane and deferential to defendants in capital cases. Everyone I’ve talked to down there has said that prosecutors and law-and-order judges can’t wait to overturn some of the capital cases that came down during the Robertson era.

    What happens if the state’s Supreme Court uses Maye’s case to overturn Wheeler? I have no idea. Seems to me there’s something fundamentally unjust about reversing a precedent, then holding the defendant in the case that reverses the precedent to the new rule, despite the fact that the incident took place while the old rule was still in effect. We don’t let legislators pass ex post facto laws. Seems the same principle ought to apply to case law. I talked to a few experts in constitutional law abou this, and while all agreed that such an outcome would be unjust, none had any strong opinions on whether or not it would pass constitutional muster.

    Of course, the state Supreme Court might get around all of that with some slippery meneuvering that “distinguishes” Wheeler without overturning it, but “distinguishes” it in such a way that for all practical purposes overrules it.

    This is all speculative, of course, and assumes the unlikely chain of events that would lead to Maye’s case reaching the state Supreme Court on Wheeler, and the Court using Maye to wipe Wheeler from the books.

    What’s more pratical, pertinent, and relevant is how Judge Eubanks will deal with Wheeler in the next few weeks. I don’t see how he can ignore it. He’ll have to address it in some way. And I have a hard time seeing him taking the prosecution’s bait and declaring that Wheeler doesnt’ apply without offering an explanation as to why it doesn’t apply. It would be very difficult to distinguish Wheeler from Maye’s case in an intellectually honest way without coming to the conclusion that the facts in Maye’s case are more compelling than those in Wheeler.

    Once we get to that point, things look good for Maye. If Eubanks accepts the argument that Wheeler is on-point and the controlling case law, and he accepts the argument that Wheeler can’t be distinguished from Maye in any way unfavorable to Maye, he then has no choice but to throw out the capital murder conviction.

    But then what? You can’t rule that as a matter of law, the jury could not have reached the verdict it did, then order a new trial in which a new jury could come to the very same conclusion. Legal minds in reader-land, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. But that doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. A new trial would be a huge victory. But if a judge were to accept the premise that Wheeler is both on-point and indistinguishable from Maye, I don’t see how he could do anything other than pronounce Maye “not guilty” as a matter of law.

    Here’s where it really gets interesting. The defense argues — and the prosecution concedes — that if Cory Maye isn’t guilty of capital murder, he isn’t guilty of anything. That is, if as a matter of law Maye did not know that Officer Jones was a police officer, then as a matter of law, he was within his rights to use lethal force to defend his home and his family from an intruder. That means no manslaughter, felony recklessness, or some other crime that doesn’t require intent. Which means he’d be released.

    The problem is that it’s really difficult to see a judge coming back on motions concerning a man who is on death row for admitedly shooting and killing a police officer with an order that the defendant be freed. It would be an extraordinary move. And to be honest, I don’t think it’ll happen. It’s just too politically perilous (though it’s worth noting that Judge Eubanks is retiring). A new trial seems like a more politically feasible outcome. Still, from a logical standpoint, I just don’t see how Judge Eubanks could negotiate his way around Wheeler and its implications and come up with anything short of releasing Maye. At least in a convincing way.

    Of course, Wheeler is just one of the defense team’s arguments. I’m interested to hear what blogosphere criminal lawyers and constitutional scholars make of all of this.

    One other thing — Rhonda Cooper made no mention of Wheeler during the trial or in her post-trial motion.

    Transcripts from Last Week’s Hearing

    Friday, September 29th, 2006
  • Day one is here.
  • Day two is here.
  • Clarion-Ledger Columnist Calls for New Trial

    Thursday, September 28th, 2006

    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.

    Who’s Who

    Thursday, September 28th, 2006

    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.

    Bob Evans

    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 Pafford

    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.

    Ben Vernia

    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.

    Jessica Gabel

    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.

    Michael Labson

    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.

    Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald

    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.

    Doug Miller

    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.

    Cooper Speaks

    Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

    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 Scene in Poplarville

    Monday, September 25th, 2006

    Courthouse.jpg

    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.

    Bus.jpg

    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.

    A Note on the Jones Family

    Monday, September 25th, 2006

    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.

    Reason Article

    Sunday, September 24th, 2006

    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.

    Meeting Cory

    Sunday, September 24th, 2006

    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.

    A Few Words of Caution

    Sunday, September 24th, 2006

    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.

    Randy Gentry’s Greatest Hits

    Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

    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.