June 20, 2019
When They Saw Him: The Case of Rodney K. Stanberry
There is a lot of discussion around Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series entitled When They See Us. The series is about the Central Park 5, now also known as the Exonerated 5 as they were exonerated, but not before their teen years were stolen from them; not before they experienced a grave injustice at the hands of prosecutors and the judicial system; and not before they got a true understanding of what it means to be guilty before being proven innocent, which is the opposite of what we are taught about our judicial system. These individuals did not have a chance once they were accused. The case of the Central Park 5 is well known, but from what I understand, Ava Duvernay’s series provides one with a no holds barred insight into the all too real reality of how easy it is to get a wrongful conviction, especially if the individuals are among a group often considered to be public enemy number one. And when one adds to the mix the race of the crime victim, even more gets added to the mix as many African American males have been lynched by the mere accusation of committing a violent sexual crime. I can get into the study of lynching by Ida B. Wells, but I won’t do so in this blog. While the entire case is disturbing, it is even more disturbing to know that only two of the five young teens knew one another, meaning that they were rounded up and placed in police custody where they were coerced into confessing for crimes they neither knew about, nor committed. And what happened to Corey Wise, who accompanied his friend to the police station, is a true American travesty on top of a travesty.
I have not yet watched the series as it is so difficult to watch documentaries on wrongful convictions as my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, lived with that nightmare for 20 years of his life- twenty five years when one includes the day of the accusation, his trial and appeal before beginning his prison sentence on March 24th, 1997. One can imagine how difficult it can be for one to watch the docu-series; I read that even some of the actors portraying the Central Park 5 experienced emotional pain during the taping of the film. I also read a piece about how watching DuVernay’s series on the Central Park 5 is for Black people is akin to watching a horror film and many simply can’t handle doing so. In response to this, Ava DuVernay stated the following:
10 June at 08:57 ·
”I know there are folks that have chosen not to watch, feeling that it’s too traumatic, and others who have chosen to educate themselves in order to arm themselves…to know what their rights are…It’s been a war against us for over 400 years. To say, ’I don’t want to see it,’ is something I’d invite people to re-examine.” -Ava DuVernay #WhenTheySeeUs https://www.facebook.com/essence/
I get that, but while many tend to become aware, agitated and angry for a short period time after being exposed to the anatomy of a conviction, recall the Making of a Murderer as another example, my cousin has had to experience this nightmare since he was 23 years of age, he just turned 50 on April 27th, 2019. He spent his 20s being accused, tried and convicted of a crime for which he was falsely accused, his entire 30s in prison as well as all but two and a half years of his 40s and we are still trying to get true justice and acknowledgement from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office that they convicted an innocent man.
This blog is for the purpose to reintroduce you to the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, who, as mentioned, spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. This will be the first of three blogs about his case that I will complete over the course of the next several weeks. The next one will be an open letter to District Attorney Ashley Rich (Mobile, Alabama) and the third one will be a longer blog outlining some of the issues she discussed on a recent appearance on a local (Mobile, AL) radio show. This is June, Father’s Day is this month and Independence Day is July 4th, as you know. How many Father’s Days did Rodney spend in prison? TWENTY. How many Father’s Days did Rodney’s father spend with his son in prison? TWENTY. Before I go on, I am going to ask that you contact Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s Office to ask that she establishes a Conviction Integrity Unit so that cases such as Rodney’s can be reviewed by a variety of individuals, including members of the district attorney’s office. The contact info for the Mobile DA’s Office is (251) 574-8400, Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-5000 – firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or Mike Morgan – Chief Investigator – 251-574-6681 – email@example.com https://www.mobileda.org/list-of-teams/.
I will spend more time in an upcoming blog discussing Conviction Integrity Units, one of which was recently established by a district attorney in Monroe County, New York. Here is a quote from an article about it: “At the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, we aim for justice, not incarcerating as many people as possible,” Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said in a statement. “Convicting innocent people is a horrifying concept, and a Conviction Integrity Unit can help with a fair and just Criminal Justice System here in Monroe County.” https://13wham.com/news/local/monroe-co-das-office-to-investigate-claims-of-innocence-with-conviction-integrity-unit This should be the mentality of Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich. I look forward to seeing her post these sentiments on her webpage as she is establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. This wishful thinking can and should become a reality. Anyway, while I understand that this blog is fairly long, please keep in mind that you can go to www.freerodneystanberry.com and www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog to learn more about Rodney’s case.
When They Saw Him
I wish to begin this section of the blog by stating that a brutal crime took place against an innocent woman. She, nor anyone, deserves to be attacked (you can read more here). A brutal crime took place in the Central Park 5 case and in many cases where there are wrongful convictions. But this should not give district attorney’s a license to convict at all cost, whether one is guilty or innocent, they must follow the “rule of law.’ District Attorney’s should not be in the business of suppressing, hiding, destroying and ignoring evidence of innocence as the victim does not get true justice when the innocent are convicted. And when the innocent are convicted, the actual guilty culprits remain free. How is this justice?
On March 2nd, 1992, on the last day of Mardi Gras, two individuals entered the victim’s home, brutally shooting her. One of those individuals, Terrell Moore, confessed to committing the crime– admitting that it was he and another individual. He confessed BEFORE RODNEY’s TRIAL and this wasn’t a Central Park type of confession where the young men were subjected to a very difficult interrogation, without parents present, without attorneys, without sleep, and with the assumption that they were guilty and thus a confession will be made by hook or by crook, as I recall. No, the person who confessed in Rodney’s case had as his attorney one of the best and most well-known attorneys in Mobile. The prosecutor gave him immunity if he told the truth. He told the truth, but it did not fit the prosecutor’s theory. The prosecutor, Joe Carl “Buzz” Jordan even asked Moore if he were offered lunch meat in return for his confession! No, Mr. Jordan, he was offered something more valuable by YOU- tell the truth and you will be ok. He told the truth, you decided to not believe him, so you got it suppressed on the day of Rodney’s trial!!! You gave him a get out of jail free card so that you could pursue an innocent man, Mr. Jordan, that is on YOU. Again, the reader can read the confession here. Why did the person confess? Because he knew he was guilty and that the police and DA would know it as well. Little did he know that they just did not care about the truth, which means they did not care about justice, which means that they had no qualms about letting the guilty go free while pursuing the innocent and will have to ask why that is the case. Anyway, Moore made this confession more than two years BEFORE Rodney’s trial. The prosecutor got it suppressed on the day of Rodney’s trial.
What about the actual shooter as the person who confessed included who actually shot the victim. Well, the prosecutor wanted to pretend that he did not exist. Yes, you heard me. You can read more here (What they Wish to Wish Away). The truth becomes a casualty of war in the convict at all cost mentality of district attorney’s. Far too many will do anything and everything to get a conviction so let the innocent beware, Ok, so Rodney was at work. His co-workers testified in court that he was at work, documentation place him at work, he would have literally have had to be superman to be two places at once.
The Making of a Wrongful Conviction
On March 3rd, the day after the crimes took place, Rodney, a hardworking, law abiding citizen, took the rare day off to go to the Prichard Police Department to provide them with as much information as possible to help the police to apprehend the individuals from New York- the individuals who came to Mobile to visit Rodney during Mardi Gras. Because Rodney worked throughout their visit, another individual from Mobile entertained the individuals. Rodney also warned the victim’s husband to not sell the folks from New York weapons as he feared they would take them back to New York to commit a crime. His warning was not heeded. As a means of an explanation, Rodney liked to hunt and he wanted to show off a deer that was at the home of the victim and her husband. While seeing the deer, the individuals from New York also saw guns and started asking about them. This is why Rodney warned about selling guns to the individuals (again, you can read more here-). Rodney’s friends did not like his interference, but Rodney did what any law abiding person would do who feared that weapons would be used to commit crimes. Needless to say, this did not endear him with his friends and, unfortunately, some weapons were sold to them but they wanted more, hence the Mardi Gras Day robbery and shooting. Rodney, a law abiding citizen, had no problem being as helpful as possible to help apprehend the people he knew. Before going to the Prichard Police, he tried to track down the two individuals from New York AND he called the police department in New York to let them know what happened and that the individuals would be on a Greyhound bus and that they should be apprehended. Rodney even went to an electronics store (RS initials) to purchase a recording device and then secretly recorded the individuals involved asking them why they did this and they apologized and, again, exonerated Rodney, Rodney turned that recording over to the police and it, too, was “lost” while in the hands of law enforcement. Rodney essentially tried to play crime fighter and for that, he was “believed” to be guilty because he was being too helpful. Rodney broke the friend code because a brutal crime had been committed, but it was viewed in a negative lens by law enforcement who ask citizens to speak up about crimes. Recall that Rodney went to the Prichard Police department on March 3rd, taking a day off work. He deemed to be too helpful by a Prichard Police Officer, the same one who took the photos provided by Rodney and placed them in front of the victim and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house.
- Rodney provided photos to the police that included one of the individuals involved in the crime. The police placed that photo in front of the victim while she was in the hospital recovering from a brutal gunshot womb and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house so she pointed to Rodney and this continued the ball rolling- the Prichard Police Department and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office should have known better to use this as a “photo-line-up” but they did and this became one of a series of extremely unfortunate mishaps perpetuated by the police and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to make a wrongful arrest and conviction.
- Once the victim pointed to Rodney in the photo that HE provided because, again, he was trying to help the police, regardless of his relationship with the person that the person who confessed to being one of the only two people at the victim’s home was the shooter, it someone became it was Rodney and his White girlfriend. Again, Rodney’s girlfriend was White and the two of them would be at her house frequently, so that is what the victim would have honestly remembered. This isn’t the victim’s fault. It is the fault of prosecutor Joe Carl Buzz Jordan who went to his girlfriend’s place of employment where he discovered that she, too, was at work when the crimes took place. She also was with Rodney when he visited the hospital the night of the shooting (Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith asked him this during an interview that took place at Rodney’s job- pg 47 (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Jordan20bfi1.161162558.pdf
So the prosecutor would have evidence that Rodney AND his girlfriend were at work, but he continued to pursue Rodney for when he saw Rodney, one can speculate, he saw someone who came from New York, dated whoever he wished, was gainfully employed, owned his own truck, came from a two-parent, middle class household, whose sister was a college student- shall I go on? Why can I speculate what the prosecutor saw when he saw Rodney? During the interview that took place at Rodney’s place of employment, an interview in which he was not mirandized some of the of questioning was about his girlfriends, his parents’ home ownership, his family’s move from New York. When they saw Rodney, they saw someone who was out of place and that made him a criminal as opposed to the people who actually perpetuated the crime, again NO ONE WAS ARRESTED NOR PROSECUTED for these crimes EXCEPT FOR RODNEY! The prosecutor tried to push forward a murder for hire scheme as a motive for the crimes, but, again, that fell by the wayside, though the prosecutor tried to indirectly bring it up during trial to convince the jury that even though Rodney had a stable job, had the same guns he was accused of stealing, had an alibi, that maybe, just maybe he and the husband were involved. Again, this theory mattered little to the prosecutor as when Rodney was convicted; he moved on. Case closed, nothing more to see here, folks. The judge included this alleged murder for hire scheme in his ruling against Rodney’s Rule 32 appeal as well http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20131001162535.273150859.pdf see pages 4-6 ) This order by Judge McRae reads like it was written by the prosecutor’s office. The judge wrote that while prosecutor Jordan was at Rikers Prison in New York (an interview that the prosecutor claimed he did take notes because he was on vacation- this claim is on record via the same Rule 32 hearing that the judge presided over and ruled on, yet he includes in his order denyin Rodney’s appeal that the person at Rikers told Jordan to investigate the husband. Yes, folks, this is a part of the anatomy of a wrongful conviction, perpetuated by the prosecutor, sanctioned by the judge and others in the system). Rodney was his man and it was Rodney and Rodney only that he was going to make an example out of, I mean prosecute.
“**A Black Redneck**
The title is a quote from a longer article (Time Served or Justice Denied in Alabama by Bill Riales). I do not like using certain words so forgive me if you find this to be offensive. But to continue with this, here is a quote from an investigative piece about Rodney’s case:
“**A Black Redneck** When Rodney was 17, his father moved the family from New York to the community of Axis. The elder Stanberry feared the emerging street culture of New York City and the effect it might have on his son. Rodney reveled in the move, taking up hunting and fishing. A selfdescribed “black redneck,” he loved guns and shooting and quickly became familiar with a South Alabama way of life. After having trouble with his infatuation with a white girl and finding work as a sanitation truck driver, he settled down to enjoy life. Then he met Mike Finley, a kindred spirit. They enjoyed guns, ate dinner on Sundays, went shooting as much as they could, and owned many of the same types of weapons. Valerie knew him as part of the family. Mike and Valerie lived in a small house at the end of a cui de sac in Whistler. Rodney says it was simple happenstance that caused his former New York friend Rene (pronounced Rennie) Whitecloud Barbosa to call. Barbosa was looking to come south from New York and he had a friend he was bringing along – Angel Melendez. Melendez, known as “Wish” was also connected to Rodneys past life in New York. Stanberry had gotten Melendez’s sister pregnant and had a child with her as a teenager. Now, Barbosa and Melendez were headed to Mobile, for a Mardi Gras visit with their old friend.” http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/timeservedlagniappe_1.7453308.pdf
So, yes, Rodney knew the individual who was the actual shooter- Terrell Moore includes in his confession who shot the victim. An innocent phone call where Rodney was actually trying to reconnect with a young son he left behind as a teen age father inadvertently led to two of his friends coming to Mobile to experience Mardi Gras. They were his childhood friends from when he lived in New York. He had no idea that a brutal crime would be committed while they were in town. And he had no qualms about doing everything he could to help the police to locate them as they were attempting to return to New York. He was upset that they would come to his town, to visit him and to commit a crime. That wasn’t who he was and he was not going to abide by a no snitching code as he wanted justice. Again, the person who confessed, who accompanied the actual shooter to the victim’s house was not a friend of Rodney, they barely knew one another. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds, but I invite you to read more about this in this blog. So Rodney went to the Prichard Police to provide with names, photos, anything they needed. He was not aware of the person who confessed, but that individual thought the police were going to arrest him because an on the ground witness saw him and could identify him. Little did he know that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would give him a free pass to be involved in a brutal crime. So listen to me, the person who confessed had a record, he had a spotty work record, even during Rodney’s Rule 32 (post conviction) appeal when the person who confessed was again going to do the right thing, Assistant DA Martha Tierney reminds him that he has a record and if he says what she thinks he will say, then it was lights out. So when they saw Moore (the person who confessed), they saw a man who fit a stereotype but the stereotype Rodney fit was much greater- an uppity Black man from New York, dating who he wants to date, gainfully employed, two parent household, sister in college, and maintaining his innocence, well, that is a bigger issue than anything. The arrogance of maintaining your innocence for a crime not committed. How dare he! Throughout my 20 plus years of fighting for Rodney’s freedom and exoneration, I rarely emphasized these side issues, but others did, and some, based on stereotypes of certain people in Alabama, tried to bait me to stress the racial angle. But I rarely did because Rodney’s innocence and the lack of evidence the prosecutor used to convict him speaks louder than anything. But what did they see when they saw him? What were their impressions that remained even after it became evident that he was not at the victim’s house when her house was burglarized and when she was brutally shot.
He was Innocent Then, He is Innocent Now and his conviction should matter to DA Ashley Rich
On our website, www.freerodneystanberry.com I have a link entitled “Why He is Innocent.” I am convinced that the powers that be in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from the time Rodney was arrested to the present time knows he was not and could have been at the victim’s house. But they allowed a faulty “photo-line-up” to kick off a wrongful conviction- they knew that both Rodney and his girlfriend were at work, they had a confession from Terrell Moore and evidence to corroborate that confession, the Prichard Police “lost” evidence that would further place the person who confessed at the scene, Prosecutor Buzz Jordan traveled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York before Rodney’s trial to interview the person they claim was the shooter but claims that he did not take notes because he was on vacation (if he heard what he wanted to hear and that was that Rodney was involved, do you really think he would have claimed to have not taken notes because he was on vacation?), Rodney’s supervisor and co-workers testified that he was at work, in other words, he really would have been two places at the same time. The person who confessed was not Rodney’s friend. He was introduced to Rodney’s friends by another individual because Rodney could not entertain his friends while at work- again, Rodney never missed a day of work. He was making a very good salary for a young, Black man in Mobile, Alabama making more than 300.00 a week working for a stable company. So he was not going to take off work to be with his friends because that isn’t what he did. He worked hard and he played hard and when they saw him, they had to take him down a notch. But in the process, they took down some of our faith in the system. In the process, they did not extend justice to victim. In the process, they cheated taxpayers out of their money by convicting an innocent man and keeping him in prison for 20 years. In the process, they let someone who was involved in brutal crime know that we do not care to convict you, we want him. When they saw Rodney, when they saw his background… well, you get point.
Freed But Not Exonerated
Rodney began serving his prison sentence in March of 1997. The crimes for which he was accused (attempted murder, robbery and burglary. Rodney worked until days before he went to prison in 1997. The crimes took place in 1992, his trial in 1995, and after losing an appeal, went to prison. He remained at the SAME place of employment throughout this time. His supervisor continued to testify on Rodney’s behalf. You can hear him on a radio interview from 2009 courtesy of the Dr. Wilmer Leon Show here and an interview from 2006 here.
This was a major company in Alabama. Do you think they would have kept in their employment someone who had been accused of committing such a brutal crime on company time had they believed he was guilty? When Rodney’s place of employment saw him, they saw him as who he was, a hard working, law abiding citizen who was working when this crime was committed. Why could not prosecutor Jordan see this in light of evidence of innocence (I enclosed a video featuring both Jordan and Moore). I once wrote a blog entitled Rodney passed a polygraph test can they, which is how the people responsible for upholding the rule of law, pursuing justice, and abiding by the truth did the opposite in Rodney’s case. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich now owns Rodney’s case. While she was elected in 2010 to serve as the Mobile District Attorney, she served in the office for 16 years or so prior to that. Since the day she became DA, he was aware of Rodney’s case. We had a very successful call in to her office. It was so successful thanks to those who are justice minded people that her Chief Investigator, Mike Morgan, called some folks and asked why were they interested about and calling regarding Rodney’s case! He was even quoted in this article by Kirstin Savali entitled “Black Community Rallies to Reopen the Case of Rodney K. Stanberry.” Mobile DA Rich knows about this case, she was asked about it during her campaign, and if you were to call her office tomorrow, you would see that there is knowledge about his case. Although Rodney is now free, he has not been exonerated. Just as we have seen District attorney offices work to free individuals who served years in prison via Conviction Integrity Units, she can do the same.
Until District Attorney Ashley Rich seriously looks reviews Rodney’s case And allows independent third party to do so, as is the purpose of establishing Conviction Integrity Units) she owns the tactics of Buzz Jordan in getting a wrongful conviction- going to visit a suspect and claiming not to take notes should be among the egregious tactics he used to get a wrongful conviction, his dismissal of an actual confession should shock her. Rodney was convicted solely on victim eyewitness misidentification. She knows how that came about, does she know that when the victim pointed to Rodney via picture he provided while recovering from a coma that it became Rodney and his White girlfriend (for if in response to a question of who could have been at your house, it would have been both of them, which is why Buzz Jordan when to her job to interview her. By the way, in recent years his girlfriend at the time has tried to reach out Mobile DA Ashley Rich’s office but, again, the truth matters less than the conviction). No one was convicted of these crimes except for Rodney even as the prosecutor, who suppressed a confession AND pretended that the person who actually shot the victim did not exist told the jury that he was going to bring the person at Rikers prison to Mobile for a trial. He never did. He never intended to. He focused SOLELY on Rodney and Rodney’s conviction. Why? What did he see when he saw Rodney? What did he see when he saw and heard Terell Moore’s confession (Moore made the confession IN FRONT OF PROSECUTOR BUZZ JORDAN TWO YEARS BEFORE RODNEY’s TRIAL? More importantly, what does Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich see and condone in the conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry?
Again, I am asking that you contact the Mobile District Attorney’s Office , that you share this with friends and acquaintances in the media, and if you know Ava DuVernay, share it with her. As I recall, she has Alabama connections. An innocent man spent 20 years in prison. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office should acknowledge this, apologies publicly and institute reforms to help to prevent this from happening in the future.
Here is a a 50+ page interview that took place in April of 1992 where Buzz Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith are “interviewing” Rodney at his place of employment. It is very saw to read the end of the interview as Rodney who is trying to be helpful realizes that he is a suspect. Soon after the April 1992 interview with Buzz Jordan and Lebarron Smith (police), Rodney was arrested and charged with crimes he did not commit. This 23 year old man who was making $300 dollars a week at a major company with no incentive to steal the very weapons he either had or could purchase. You can see the point when Rodney realizes that the prosecutor is focusing on him even as he knows that he was at work when the crimes took place. The complete interview can be read here: And speaking of the rule of law, even Judge Ferrell McRae chastised Jordan for not properly mirandizing Rodney during this interview. Rodney thought he was being a cooperative law abiding citizen not knowing that Jordan saw him as a suspect- beginning on page 109 of the trial transcript, Det. Lebarron Smith admits that Rodney was their chief suspect when they conducted the interview on April 7th at his place of work but did not bother reading him his Miranda rights. Rule of Law? Yeah, oh. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/mcrae1.161162953.pdf Anyway, Rodney, thinking like an innocent man, is surprised that it is he that they are focusing on.