I did not just talk to the prisoners and take their word for it. I also read the trial transcripts, the briefs of counsel for both the defendant and the Commonwealth and all of the papers in the case. I became convinced that about 30% of all prisoners in Virginia should not be there at all. Here are summaries of some of the cases I encountered.
In the first case, I actually succeeded in getting the man out of jail. This virtually never happens in Virginia. However, all but one of the rest are still in prison and will be there for a long time.
There are so many cases that I cannot write them all at once. I will just keep adding to this list when I have time.
In 1986, Kevin Moyna broke into a warehouse near Richmond, Virginia. Naturally, he then used the company telephone to make a few long distance calls to his friends and relatives in New Mexico. Then, to hide the burglary, he decided to burn the place down. He set a fire and escaped. He told me that a $400,000 warehouse had been utterly destroyed. He went to stay in a homeless shelter in Richmond.
For this, the judge sentenced him to 20 years, and rightfully so. However, the problem was that the particular crime of arson to which he pleaded guilty carried a maximum penalty of 10 years. By the time I met him, he had already completed the ten years. (He had actually been in for seven and a half years, but seven years counts for ten in the Virginia prison system.)
After I discovered this in the prison law library, the problem was how to get him out. This is not a simple or a trivial problem in Virginia. Please understand: Virginia never grants a writ of habeas corpus. There is also the notorious "21-day rule" in Virginia that once 21 days have passed after the imposition of a sentence, the judge loses jurisdiction to modify it. Nobody ever gets out in Virginia, except on parole or when the term is completed. New trials are never granted. Also, because of the serious nature of Kevin's offense, were there a new trial, they could without difficulty reformulate the charges to give him far more than the 20 years he got.
One of our fellow prisoners, Richard Shanklin, a commercial airline pilot who had once stolen a DC-10 jumbo jet airplane as a protest to being laid off as a United Airlines pilot because he was too short, found a good lawyer for Kevin. The lawyer quietly approached the judge with this problem. They made a deal to quietly reduce Kevin's sentence to ten years without telling anybody about it, realizing that the 21-day rule and the bar against habeas corpus would keep Kevin locked up if this were known. Once the sentence was reduced to ten years and the paperwork went into the computer, Kevin was released in the normal course. The last I heard, Kevin was out of prison and was going back to New Mexico. All prisoners in Virginia are normally released under six months mandatory parole, but in Kevin's case there was no parole because he had already completed six months more than his sentence. I only hope Kevin made it to New Mexico without committing another crime. Probably not.
Virginia has a law which I believe does not exist anywhere else called the "habitual offender" law. Once a person has received three traffic tickets within ten years, he can be declared a "habitual offender" by the courts. He is then barred from driving a car in Virginia. If he is found driving a car in Virginia, he receives an automatic sentence of not less than one nor more than five years.
Ronald T. Anthony had three tickets within ten years and was declared a habitual offender. However, he continued to drive. He had an identical twin brother named Donald T. Anthony. The next time Ronald T. Anthony was stopped and given a ticket, he told the police officer that his name was Donald T. Anthony. His brother had a clean driving record.
This happened three more times. However, when Ronald T. Anthony appeared in court for the fourth ticket in Richmond, and the judge sentenced him to pay a fine, a police officer who was in court that day to testify in an unrelated case stood up and told the judge that he recognized this person and that he was a habitual offender who was required by law to serve a minimum of one year if caught driving in Virginia again.
The mistake was suddenly realized and Ronald T. Anthony was thrown in jail. They realized that he had gotten away with claiming to be his identical twin brother four times, so they decided to give him the maximum, five years for each of the four traffic tickets, for a total of 20 years in Virginia State Prison.
The problem I had with this was that, as I read the law, you had to be sentenced, get out, and get caught a second time before they could give you the second five years. I do not believe the law as written allows for simultaneous multiple sentences totaling more than five years.
I filed two writs of habeas corpus for Ronald T. Anthony, directed to Judge Wilkerson in Richmond. Both writs were summarily denied. Fortunately, the first time he came up for parole, Ronald T. Anthony was granted parole and was released.
I spoke to Ronald T. Anthony after he got out. He was living in Richmond, and was sleeping with one of the married female prison guards we had met while in prison. He told me that he had not been doing any driving lately.
One problem is that Willie Moore is hopelessly schizophrenic. He never stops talking. He yells and screams, sings songs and continuously makes noise. He must be put in an isolation cell away from the other prisoners for this reason. He has been institutionalized several times in Central State Hospital in Petersburg, the main psychiatric hospital in Virginia. This does not help with his defense.
The conviction is based primarily on a "confession" which Willie Moore allegedly made. However, Willie Moore is crazy and will say any kind of crazy thing. The exact words of the so-called "confession" were not provided. Apparently, six months after the bootlegger was found dead, Willie Moore said to somebody on the street something like "Yea. I kilt the Motherf-----." However, when I met Willie Moore, he vehemently denied that he had killed anybody.
The only other evidence was saliva found on a cigarette butt in the dead man's house six months after the man had been murdered. The bootlegger sold primarily bootleg cigarettes, cigarettes brought in from North Carolina on which the Virginia tobacco tax had not been paid. This is a big business in Virginia. The bootlegger would stay up in his house all night dealing in these bootleg cigarettes and sleep all day. There was constant traffic of people coming and going from his house every night.
One morning in 1991, the bootlegger was found murdered. The police sealed up his house. Six months later during a search of his house, four cigarette butts were recovered. The saliva on these four cigarette butts were tested for DNA.
According to the report, one of these four cigarette butts contained saliva which only 9% of the general black population has. Willie Moore has this type of saliva.
This 9% DNA was the sole evidence linking Willie Moore to the crime.
I have a lot of problems with this. First and foremost, DNA is not a 9% proposition. It is either 99.9% or nothing. Also, experts tell me that it is doubtful that DNA can be obtained with any reliability from the saliva on a six months old cigarette butt. There are so many additional problems that anybody can think of them. Willie Moore admits that he often purchased bootleg cigarettes from the murder victim and that he was frequently in that house. That does not prove that he killed him.
My primary objection is that the jury was told that a DNA test showed that Willie Moore did it. This was reported in newspaper articles published in Petersburg. Most jurors were likely to believe that this constituted conclusive proof. They would not have known, especially in 1992 before the O. J. Simpson trial, that this claim of "9% DNA" was utter nonsense.
I was able to talk to Willie Moore about his case when I passed by his isolation cell coming and going to the rec yard. I thoroughly researched the case law on DNA testing. I personally wrote Willie Moore's notice of appeal and petition for appeal. Willie Moore signed them. I sent them in to the Virginia Court of Appeals. What I wrote was a masterpiece, only seven pages long but one of the best things that I have ever written. The appeal was denied. Willie Moore is still serving his life sentence.
[To Be Continued]
The Chicago Tribune Reports what I have been saying on this web site all along: Prosecutors across the country have knowingly convicted innocent men and sent them to their deaths.
At 03:05 PM 11/19/00 -0800, Kevin Moyna wrote:
Hi, Sam (or Ismail, if you prefer). I'm not sure if you received my last e-mail (about 2 weeks ago); I may have gotten the address wrong. Anyhow, I just wanted to say Hi, and thanks for the nice little article about me in your website. I had no idea that you even remembered me (I'm flattered), but I registered with classmates.com and an old high school buddy of mine (Jeff Moehn) got in contact with me and told me I'm on the web! I'm so glad-it helps when I forget things-now I can look me up! Anyway, thanks for the honorable mention. e-mail me sometime! my address is firstname.lastname@example.org (I live in San Francisco now).
A Salaam Likum (I hope I got that right)!
I am so very happy to hear from you. I am especially glad that you are not back at our old alma mater, where I was afraid you might be.
Unfortunately, I think that Richard Shanklin got locked up again for something else, after miraculously getting out on appeal. He is back in prison now.
Please keep in touch, and stop by the Mechanics Institute Chess Club at 57 Post Street in San Francisco, near the corner of Market on the fourth floor.
Say hello to my friends Steve Brandwein, Mike Goodall and John Donaldson and be sure to tell them that you were my old cellmate.
You will not have trouble in San Francisco, as they have laws there, unlike Virginia.
No. I did not get your previous letter.