Quest for justice can take the longest roads

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As I watched 60 Minutes recently, I cried. Real tears.

The story was about the Dallas justice system, under the infamous Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, and how it had incarcerated innocent men -- black and white. Wade, who successfully prosecuted Jack Ruby in the Lee Harvey Oswald case, and who is the Wade in Roe v. Wade , bragged about having never lost a case he personally prosecuted during his three-decade tenure.

Now we know why.

According to the story, the new district attorney, Craig Watkins, who happens to be the first black elected to that office in Texas history, has taken upon himself -- notwithstanding some criticism from those who accuse him of wasting taxpayers' money -- to review the files of the district attorney's office to see whether there were people convicted of crimes they did not commit. Watkins said, "We have a responsibility to go back and right the wrongs of the past and free the innocent."

So far, they have uncovered several cases where the district attorney's office either did not have enough evidence to prosecute or had evidence that would have favored defendants had it been given to defense attorneys working the cases. One of these men spoke profoundly on his painful 27-year incarceration. Watkins said, "The job of the district attorney is to seek justice, and when justice has failed, then we have to fix it."

THE ACTION -- and, in some cases, inaction -- is indefensible. The district attorney's job is not to put people in prison by any means necessary, but rather to ensure that justice is served, as Watkins stated. However, the job is so political that many district attorneys likely do not look for ways to free people, even when the evidence they have is flimsy. The pressure from families, and sometimes the community, to prosecute makes prosecutors choose to err on the side of the victim rather than the defendant. How many would protest the conviction of an alleged rapist or alleged murderer? Few indeed.

With this attitude -- along with family and public sentiment for the victim, and the power of the district attorney's office -- it is no wonder that many innocent people have gone to prison. Some have gone plea-bargaining, though innocent, for fear of being given longer sentences for a crime they did not commit, but were overwhelmed by the power of the district attorney's office. And many more will go there in the future, until we get people in district attorney offices who see their job as one that serves the interest of all citizens -- even those who are being prosecuted. After all, a man is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, isn't he?

Back to my crying. Why did this case touch me in such an intimate and profound way?

IN 1973, I almost got prosecuted for a crime I did not commit. It was a murder case involving a lovely, vibrant young lady who was a friend of mine, employed at Paine College as an Upward Bound teacher at the time of her murder. Her name was Carol Denise Greggs. She was 23. My being a close friend of Carol's made me a prime suspect. I could understand that. That did not worry me. I knew I was innocent. I was questioned several times by the investigator-in-charge, Bennie Broome. Bill Anderson was sheriff.

My first interrogation was at the scene of the crime which had taken place at Carol's apartment on Ruby Drive. That interrogation took place right next to the uncovered, decaying body. The smell was almost unbearable. I had found Carol naked, lying in bed early that Sunday morning, June of 1973. From the beginning I had concerns about how the case would be treated, since I was unpopular with the sheriff's department at the time.

In 1969, I had been falsely arrested but let go after a short committal hearing in Judge Oliver Mixon's office. The arresting officers did not have evidence to support the arrest. Subsequently, I sued the two arresting deputies. The case was later thrown out because of a technicality. "Foots" Atkins was sheriff at the time; Bill Anderson was his chief deputy.

Later in 1970 on my local radio talk show, at a station owned by James Brown, I talked about the suspicious murder of 16-year-old Charles Oatman while he was an inmate in the county jail. This was May 10, 1970. One day later, a riot broke out as a result of the killing. The city suffered irrevocable harm, in reputation, property damage and lives (six in all), not to speak of the many who had to be treated for injuries at local hospitals.

MY SECOND and last interrogation came from Investigator Broome while I was in the hospital. There was a coroner's inquest that said that Carol died from strangulation. That was the last official word I got on the murder. But I still had a lot of questions that nobody seem to want to answer, especially in the sheriff's office. In fact, for the past 35 years I have not been able to get anyone interested enough in the case to reopen it. I met with the sheriff's office in the latter part of the 1990s, but got no cooperation. other than being able to talk briefly to two of then-Sheriff Charlie Webster's top officers, who promised to follow up with an interview with me. That never took place. The Augusta Chronicle had done an article on the case. That's about all that I can say has been done.

Around this same time, I paid a visit to Carol's family in south Georgia -- my first time meeting them. Since then, the mother has passed away, not knowing who killed her daughter. Carol's father died soon after the murder. A nephew told me that he just could not take it, losing his daughter to a murderer who seemed to have gotten away.

The man in the 60 Minutes story, James Woodard, had just been released for a rape and murder he did not commit. Woodard had been accused of raping and killing his girlfriend. And he said some profound things. He had gone before the parole board 12 times and was turned down 12 times. The board finally told him that since he was not willing to admit his guilt, there was practically no chance that he would get out on parole. Mr. Pelley asked why wouldn't he admit guilt and get out, if that was the only thing standing in the way of his freedom. He said simply because he was not guilty. He went on to say that when it came to truth vs. freedom, he chose truth, if that meant remaining in jail. A man has to stand for something, he said.

THAT'S WHY I cried. I could have easily been in that man's situation had it not been for Richmond County District Attorney Richard Allen, whom I did not know personally. He was willing to say no to an overzealous investigator who was bent on putting Grady Abrams in jail, at all costs. And all of it, I believe, had its roots in the several run-ins I had had with the law -- and the unpopular political positions I had taken in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Broome later told me that he had tried to charge me with murder but was told by Mr. Allen, after he had looked at the evidence presented against me, that Broome did not have enough to go before a grand jury. Broome told me that that angered him profusely, and he did no further investigation in the case. In my opinion, because of his get-Grady Abrams-at-any-cost attitude, the murderer of Carol Greggs has gone free for 35 years.

As a result, although not in jail, I am still suffering for a murder I did not commit. This is a burden I should not have to bear. Having suspicion hanging over my head for 35 years is not easy, yet much easier than being in jail, for sure. Every day of my life I pray that God will reveal the murderer of Carol Denise Greggs and set me free.

Meanwhile, my faith remains strong. I believe God answers prayers; and in spite of the inaction of those we trust to protect us and see to it that justice is served, this murder, I strongly believe, will be solved one day.

(The writer is a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.)

Comments (24) Add comment
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justus4
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justus4 05/25/08 - 08:58 am
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'Black and white" people were
Unpublished

'Black and white" people were wrongfully convicted, according to the article. That statement is inaccurate. For example, if 99 people are wrongfully convicted, and only one is white, don't tell me minorities are not the target. Thats what is happening here. Most of these wrongful convictions are against minorities and prosecutors know that most cases will not be found out. Why? The all-white media, closet racists, corrupt DAs, and a overburdened judical system are all factors. These people on their death bed making confessions about evil deeds will not be enough to save them. "An injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE!" MLK, 1964

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 09:13 am
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Give me a break. It's all

Give me a break. It's all racisim....the mismatch in convictions couldn't possibly be because of a mismatch in commision of crimes...could it?

mgroothand
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mgroothand 05/25/08 - 10:33 am
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If justus4 would get that "I

If justus4 would get that "I am black so I am a victim" chip off his shoulders he would live a happier and long life.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 10:52 am
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Why don't you do some

Why don't you do some research on crime and punishment instead your usual charge of saying Blacks have a victim complex. ( john Carl and others like him) I know you have compassion for people who are falsely accused or convicted because I remember the Duke Lacrosse case and the outrage of the folks on this fourm.

mgroothand
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mgroothand 05/25/08 - 11:40 am
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Yes, the Duke Lacrosse case

Yes, the Duke Lacrosse case was an outrage and I'm still outraged about it. One outrage in particular deals with the fact that the perpetrator of all this, the stripper, was never charged with any crime. I wonder why?

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 11:55 am
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What research have you done

What research have you done owensjef2? I'd love to see your bibliography.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 12:27 pm
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Neither has the girl who

Neither has the girl who falsely accused Michael Irvine. I hope you are still outraged about that too, I doubt it . Imagine if they had spent 27 years in jail for a crime they did not commit, I bet you would really be outraged then.

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 12:29 pm
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The Color of Crime Race,

The Color of Crime
Race, Crime, and Justice in America
Second, Expanded Edition, 2005
Major Findings:
-Police and the justice system are not biased against minorities.
Crime Rates
-Blacks are seven times more likely than people of other races to commit murder, and eight times more likely to commit robbery.
-When blacks commit crimes of violence, they are nearly three times more likely than non-blacks to use a gun, and more than twice as likely to use a knife.
-Hispanics commit violent crimes at roughly three times the white rate, and Asians commit violent crimes at about one quarter the white rate.
-The single best indicator of violent crime levels in an area is the percentage of the population that is black and Hispanic.
Gangs
-Only 10 percent of youth gang members are white.
-Hispanics are 19 times more likely than whites to be members of youth gangs. Blacks are 15 times more likely, and Asians are nine times more likely.

http://www.amren.com/store/colorcrime.htm

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 12:30 pm
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Yes owensjef2, I am outraged.

Yes owensjef2, I am outraged. I am outraged over ANY injustice, not just those against MY race. Where's YOUR research?

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 12:31 pm
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Well I got my B.A. in

Well I got my B.A. in Criminal Justice in 1987, and by the way have you ever heard of a Self Fulfilling Prophecy.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 12:33 pm
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Okay then why the Negative

Okay then why the Negative view of the letter.

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 12:34 pm
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Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Self Fulfilling Prophecy still requires you to commit the crime. It's not just magic that lands you in jail.

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 12:36 pm
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Please indicate where I

Please indicate where I showed ANY negative view of the letter. My negative view is over those who can see no other reason for being jailed than their color.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 12:43 pm
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Thats not what the letter is

Thats not what the letter is about, I am well aware of the problems in the black community , as far as, crime and education go.

JohnCarlStrauss
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JohnCarlStrauss 05/25/08 - 12:44 pm
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I was replying to

I was replying to justus4...sorry for the confusion.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 12:49 pm
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I watched that 60 min's piece

I watched that 60 min's piece and it was very touching , and I applaud the character of the man who would spend life in prison before he admitted to something that he did not do.

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 05/25/08 - 01:27 pm
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I want to thank Grady Abrams

I want to thank Grady Abrams for sharing his story. I have heard bits and pieces of it over the years and it angered and frustrated me every time that Mr. Abrams and Ms. Greggs family still did not have justice. This tragedy altered many lives including Mr. Abrams. I lived not far from there when it happened and it affected my sense of personal safety and I'm sure any other women in my community. My gut told me he did not do it. I want to know who did. And why. I want peace, justice and vindication for Mr. Abrams. I've read many of his letters over the years and there are few writers that I've felt the sincerity, strength, compassion, grief, and fair-mindedness and hope, yes, hope, come through so strongly. This is a good man and he has proven it time and again. I hope the truth will be brought to light and soon. It is way past due. If anyone knows anything about this please come forward, anonymously if necessary, and bring us justice for Ms. Greggs.

mgroothand
5
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mgroothand 05/25/08 - 02:43 pm
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Just for you owensjef: While

Just for you owensjef: While one in 106 adult white men are incarcerated, one in 36 Hispanics and one in 15 African-Americans are behind bars, according to Pew's examination of Justice Department data from 2006. Younger black men fare even worse, with one in nine African-Americans ages 20 to 34 held in cells.

jack
10
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jack 05/25/08 - 03:22 pm
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Justus racist, how many

Justus racist, how many minorities (you mean blacks) were wrongfully convicted vs whites? Specifics and not your usual opinionated, racist crap, please.

jack
10
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jack 05/25/08 - 03:28 pm
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John Carl, don't ruin Justus

John Carl, don't ruin Justus the racist's day with FACTS.

jack
10
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jack 05/25/08 - 03:29 pm
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Texas just may have a tax

Texas just may have a tax problem settling law suits for false imprisonment.

mgroothand
5
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mgroothand 05/25/08 - 03:48 pm
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Maybe it's just me, but I'm

Maybe it's just me, but I'm getting just a little tired of the so-called black minority in this area accusing whites of being racists. Here is how Merriam-Webster defines Minority: "the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole; specifically : a group having less than the number of votes necessary for control". While minority status in say Peoria, IL ("but will it play in Peoria?") may be a factor, it is not the case in Augusta, GA where whites are the minority and political power is often throttled by the black majority.

Bizarro
13
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Bizarro 05/25/08 - 04:17 pm
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Think about the wrong people

Think about the wrong people we catch and then all the people we don't catch period. The majority of homicides go unsolved. I am sure many posters have committed crimes they were never outed. Or perhaps I just outed myself-dang it. hee,hee.

owensjef2
0
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owensjef2 05/25/08 - 11:40 pm
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I knew this lte would be

I knew this lte would be quiet

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