Before I accepted an offer to teach at the American Justice School of Law (AJSL), a start-up law school in Paducah, Kentucky, as well as organize and manage the school’s innocence project, I warned the dean and assistant dean that I wanted their assurance that they would support me, if I questioned and attempted to change the criminal justice system in Paducah. I had previously done that in Wenatchee, Washington with Innocence Project Northwest, an organization that I had cofounded at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. The legal and political turmoil that we caused in Wenatchee was still ongoing and I wanted them to know that I would do everything within my power to root out injustice in Paducah, if I found it, no matter how that might impact the school. Both men promised me they would have my back and I accepted their offer of employment.
When Crane-Station and I arrived in Paducah in June, 2006, I discovered that the deans had been recruiting students to enroll at AJSL by using my name and national reputation from our work in the Wenatchee case. I had more or less expected them to do this, so I was not surprised. In fact, I was rather pleased, as I have always viewed myself as a revolutionary and derived considerable pride from instigating change. Nevertheless, I soon found myself checkmated after Crane-Station was arrested because I feared what might happen to her, if I pushed too hard. We have often wondered if the prosecution’s determination to get a conviction and send her to prison for as long as possible, even if it had to withhold evidence, cheat, and suborn perjury to do so, was a reaction to my presence here and the threat that I represented to the conduct of business as usual in this immensely corrupt river town.
I will be writing more about that corruption in the future. Before I do, however, I want to tell y’all a little bit about the Wenatchee Sex Ring case, so that you might better understand why we believe Crane-Station was railroaded into prison to neutralize me. After all, that is an extraordinary claim to make and we believe y’all deserve to know why we believe that is what happened.
The first thing y’all have to understand is that the Wenatchee Sex Ring never existed. It was the product of the prejudiced mind and fevered sexual imagination of a Wenatchee police officer named Bob Perez and several child welfare social workers. The defendants and their children were poor white folks living on welfare and social security disability payments. They belonged to the same church and stood out in an otherwise economically well off community. Many of the parents and their children were developmentally disabled and viewed by many in the community with suspicion and distrust, if not outright hostility. Despite an absence of any evidence, Perez and the social workers also suspected the parents were sexual perverts.
That situation changed when one young girl told her mentally disabled mother, Idella Everett, that several boys in her class at school had jumped her in an alley as she was walking home from school and forcibly touched her privates. The mother reported the matter to a state social worker who suspected the mother and the child were lying in order to protect the child’s father, Harold Everettt, by blaming the boys for bruises in the child’s genital area. When Idella insisted that Harold would never do that to a child, she decided that both parents were sexually abusing the child in the home on an ongoing basis, even though the child persistently denied it. She then persuaded Idella that it was in the best interests of the child to remove her from the home and place her in a loving and nurturing foster home for awhile and put her in therapy to deal with her issues. Not knowing that she had a right to refuse the placement and concerned about her daughter’s welfare, Idella signed a consent form agreeing to the placement.
Well, the loving and nurturing foster home turned out to be the police officer’s home. He and his wife kept repeating that they knew her parents were “very sick and needed help.” They explained the situation to the therapist to make sure that he ‘knew’ that the girl was been sexually abused by her parents over an extended period of time and they decided to work together to convince the girl that her siblings, who were still living in the home, were in danger of being sexually abused by sick parents who needed help to prevent them from victimizing her siblings. They played on her love for her family insisting that unless she told the ‘truth’ (i.e., that her parents had sexually abused her) so that they could provide the help that the parents needed to get better, her siblings would suffer the inevitable unpleasant consequences and it would be her fault because she did not tell the truth. They never told her that getting her parents the help they needed meant convicting them of raping children and sentencing them to prison for more than 20 years.
As ya’ll can imagine, the girl soon buckled under that pressure and told them what they wanted to hear about her parents. Police immediately arrested the parents who immediately protested that they were innocent. The police accused them of lying, separated them, transported them to the police station, and placed them in separate interview rooms. Then they lied telling each of them that the other had confessed that both of them had raped their children and they would spend the rest of their lives in prison, unless they confessed and pled guilty.
Lawyers were not appointed to represent them until after they signed their confessions.
Meanwhile, the police officer continued to tell the girl that he ‘knew’ more adults were involved. When the minister of the church held a public meeting at the church to discuss the arrests and publicly announced that the church membership believed the girl’s parents were innocent victims of a witchhunt investigation and prosecution, the officer and the social worker decided that the minister and everyone who supported him must belong to the sex ring. He told the girl he believed they were involved and sure enough, she agreed.
The police then focused their investigation on interviewing the children of those individuals. They went to the schools that the children attended, pulled them out of their classes and interviewed them individually using the same tactics they used with girl. In most cases, the children buckled under pressure and told them what they wanted to hear.
That led to another wave of arrests with police employing the same tactics they had used with the child’s parents to extract false confessions. Eventually, all of the parents pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms exceeding 20 years.
Eventually, many of the children recanted their false accusations and there was any physical evidence corroborating the accusations.
I decided to get involved when I read The Power to Harm, an expose of the incredible injustice that had taken place in Wenatchee written by Andrew Schneider and Mike Barber, reporters for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I recruited 40 lawyers in Seattle to work for free and teamed them up with law students to represent 17 of the innocent men and women who were wrongfully convicted. We succeeded in freeing all of our clients even though all of them had pleaded guilty.
In recognition of our efforts, the National Law Journal awarded Innocence Project Northwest and our teams of lawyers and students its prestigious Indigent Defense Award in 2000.
I do not believe the corrupt legal system in Paducah welcomed my arrival.
EDIT: In the paragraph that begins with the word, ‘eventually’,I corrected a mistake by adding the word never, which is italicized.
Unfortunately, I also inexplicably forgot to mention that all of my innocence project files were in the car when Crane-Station was pulled over and the officers can be seen in the in-dash video reading through them with flashlights using the lid of the trunk as a desk.
This occurred before she was transported to the hospital for the blood draw and before the ‘discovery’ of the controlled substance that started out being heroin and later became crack.
I apologize for the omissions.