Wednesday, 22 September 2010
“Falling Through The Cracks In The system: ============================================================================= "The Leon Benson Story” ============================================================================= My name is Leon Benson, I’m originally from Flint, Michigan and I’m an innocent person in an Indiana prison. I am falling through the cracks of the U.S. Criminal Justice System by the day, while sincerely fighting to acquire immediate assistance to obtain my long overdue freedom. I’ve been wrongfully imprisoned the past 9 years. But to give you a clearer picture of how I am “falling through the cracks in the system” you must read the following: ============================================================================= FACTS OF THE CRIME: =============================================================================On August 8 th , 1998 between 3:45am -3:50am a white middle-class male name Kasey Schoen was shot and killed while he sat in his 1998 Ram pick-up truck parked on Pennsylvania Ave., in the near downtown area of Indianapolis, Indiana. I was in an apartment building a block away when I heard the multiple shots, which I blew off initially as possible firecrackers. And also, because gun shot sounds were a normal occurrence in this area – I didn’t think much of the sounds. I went back to my illicit drug activities with the apartment tenants. I didn’t know what actually happened until the next day that someone was killed. At that point, due to my then unconscious street hustler mentality, I was disappointed because I knew the police investigation would interfere with my ongoing illicit drug activity throughout the near downtown area. Ironically, although I had no involvement in the crime, on August 14 th 1998. I was arrested and later charged with the homicide August 21 st , 1998. Later I discovered what prompted my spontaneous arrest was the suggestions of a 50ish-black male-drug user-and parolee- Donald Brooks. The night of August 14 th 1998 I had a negotiating discussion with Brooks to clear a $40 drug deal misunderstanding I thought we came to terms on. However, after Brooks left my presence he went to an off duty police officer and told him my location and that I was involved in the shooting days earlier. While at the police station, an eyewitness to the shooting, Christy Schmitt, a white female, who delivered newspapers for Star News, mysteriously chose my photo from a photo-line up as the person she saw commit the crime. My natural appearance of a 5’10” light-complexioned Black male greatly contradicted Schmitt on scene statement to police August 8 th 1998 just minutes after the crime as follows: “While loading an outside newspaper vending box, she observed the shooting at night with her van’s headlights illuminating the scene. She described the shooter as a dark-complexioned, black male, early 20’s, 5’8”, skinny build, wearing an all black t-shirt, dark shoes, and black jogging pants with three white strips down each leg”. Additional police reports confirmed that Schmitt was approximately 50 yards away when witnessing the shooting. And 380.automatic bullets castings/shells were found on the scene. 380. Automatic bullet slugs were recovered from the victim’s body, confirming, he had been killed with a 380.automatic handgun. Exonerating evidence surfaced early in the investigation. On August 17 th , 1998 another eyewitness came forward to police. Dakarai Fulton, a 21 year old black male who lived in the crime area gave the lead Detective Alan Jones Sr. a statement and positively identified another person had committed the shooting. In Fulton’s statement he described the shooter’s clothing as all black t-shirt, all black jogging pants with three white stripes down each leg-exactly as Schmitt described the shooter wearing. In addition, Fulton said he knew who the shooter was because he seen him 2-3 hours earlier wearing the same clothes and waving a 380.automatic handgun. “I told him [the shooter] it would be nice, you know what I’m saying, if you stop waving the handgun around, ‘cause it ain’t no telling when it could go off. I had a friend who got shot that way,” Fulton stated. Strangely the person Fulton positively identified as the shooter was never arrested. In addition, on August 21 st , 1998, according to Indiana’s Crime Stoppers records an anonymous caller claimed to know the shooter and that the shooter used his girlfriend’s gun in the crime she reported stolen days before. Police confirmed that such a stolen gun report existed of the alleged shooter’s girlfriend’s stolen 380.automatic handgun. And on September 9 th 1998, Kenneth Brookings, a 40ish black male gave police a statement, that his girlfriend Sheereta Smith told him who she saw commit the shooting (i.e., Fulton, the crime stopper caller, and Sheereta Smith all described the same person (other then me) as the shooter.) With mounting pressures from being charged with a crime I didn’t commit, late September 1998 I hired a lawyer Timothy J. Miller to head my case. He assured me that he could get the charges dismissed, but this didn’t happen, 9 months later I was sitting in a courtroom being tried for Kasey Schoen’s murder. ============================================================================= THE TRIALS: ============================================================================= The first trial occurred May 25 th , 1999 and ended in a deadlock verdict: 6 not guilty, 5 guilty, 1 undecided. And this deadlock occurred without my trial lawyer Miller presenting exculpatory evidence or eyewitnesses like Fulton, Gaskin, King, Brookings or Smith. However, I believe the alibi testimony of Timothy Gaither saying that I was in fact in the apartment building with him during the gun shots, really helped to put 55% of the doubt of my guilt in the jurors’ minds. More so, Donald Brooks claiming not to remember giving police a statement placing me on the crime scene and Christy Schmitt contradictory testimony of saying that I was a light-complexioned black male unlike her initial description of the shooter being dark complexioned, all assisted in sowing doubt of my guilt in jurors’ minds too. From that first trial, I saw all the contradictions that prevented me from an all out acquittal. Which was the lack of key witnesses being present to testify on my behalf. I figured Miller’s private investigator was unsuccessful in locating witnesses because he was white and possibly scared witnesses away who dwelled in such a high crime area. I heard about a black private investigator named James Hendrix around the county jail and decided to hire him a week after the first trial to locate key witnesses in the crime area. It seemed I had made the right move, because P.I. Hendrix located Gaskins and King in a few days, plus he conducted on scene experiments and concluded that it was impossible that Schmitt could’ve positively identified anyone from the 50 yard distance in the daytime-let alone at night. However, Hendrix said he was unable to locate Fulton. Unfortunately, on July 8 th, 1999 at the end of the second trial, I was found guilty, by an almost all white jury, despite the trial testimonies of Shirley Gaskins that she seen me in the apartment building during the shots; Cheryl King testifying that Schmitt told her on the crime scene that she couldn’t identify the shooter period; Carol Knight testifying that she saw me wearing blue jeans and a blue t-shirt with an emblem on it, on the night of the shooting. Brooks still claimed memory loss and Schmitt testimony and identification was still very contradictory. However, needless to say, that my trial lawyer performance was incompetent. Miller allowed the prosecutor to engage in misconduct throughout the trial alleging that all the defense witnesses were given drugs to come to court and lie, without objecting once. Miller didn’t call Timothy Gaither to testify in the second trial without my knowledge until the middle of the proceedings. And P.I. Hendrix testimony was totally thrown out by the court, which was unfair according to U.S. constitutional law, it was revealed that Hendrix was once convicted of murder which undermined his investigational credence. I was devastated by the verdict. All I could say was “Jesus” repeatedly. And by the intensity of the roaring cheers toward my guilty verdict from a courtroom full of white on lookers, my soul was vicariously choked by a noose- I was a victim of a legal lynching. On August 19 th , 1999, at a sentencing hearing the judge gave me 60 years in prison. (Note: In 2007 it was discovered that Dakara Fulton was in custody of the state through both trials. Therefore, my trial lawyer did not try to locate this witness and the state knew where he was the entire time.)============================================================================= APPEALS: ============================================================================= After the sentencing hearing I immediately hired another lawyer and appealed the wrongful conviction. On May 17 th , 2000 I filed my Direct Appeal. Unfortunately, February 15 th , 2002 my appeal was finally denied by the Indiana Supreme Court, largely due to the incompetence of my appellant lawyer raising legal issues that were wavered because the trial lawyer failed to object to the errors of prosecution misconduct during trial. From the point of my direct appeal denial, I no longer had the financial means to hire another private lawyer. Therefore, I was forced to file my second state appeal, that is, a Post Conviction Relief Petition, with the Indiana Public Defenders Office in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 24 th , 2003. I wasn’t notified by the public defender (PD) assigned to my case until July 13 th , 2003. And the PD only informed me that my case would be backlogged behind cases that were a head of mine. Nonetheless, I was patient, although I didn’t receive one response from the letters I sent to the PD regarding my case for 2 ½ years. It was December 14 th , 2005 when the court held a hearing in a Marion County Courtroom, to compel action on my case. Due to the courts inquiry of my case, it prompted the PD to visit me for the first time January 11 th , 2006. From this visit I could tell that this PD didn’t have my best interest. Because, every time I insisted on my innocence, his eyes would flare with contempt through the glass that separated us, so much, I included this poem called “Expectations” in my January 19 th , 2006 letter to him: How should I be expected to feel? When the accusations are not real, How should I be expected to react? To an array of all the bogus facts, How should I be expected to look? While sitting in court without being the crook, What do you expect me to do? When the portraits of my deeds isn’t true, What do you expect me to say? When someone else’s crime is forcing me to pay, What do you expect me to think? Now that I’m awakened by penitentiary clinks, So tell me, what exactly should I expect? When the entire time I was innocent: “Justice, Justice, Justice-[idiot!] Just to let you know, I didn’t include [idiot] in the poem version I sent the PD. I’m not reactionary, however, from the way he poorly carried my case throughout the duration, I sometimes feel like I should have included [idiot] in that poem. Although I wrote this PD (21) detailed letters in regards to my case, specifically the importance of locating Dakarai Fulton. On August 3 rd , 2006, more than 3 ½ years of the PD having my case, Fulton was in a near fatal car accident that left him in a coma. Presently, Fulton remains in a coma-state in the long term intensive care unit at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana. It’s sad indeed, especially since the PD knew the importance of locating Fulton. Sometimes I feel like I was sandbagged by the PD. However, what should we expect from the Indiana Public Defenders Office? When The American Bar Association and The Indiana University collaborative study released in 2005, concluded that Indiana ranked 4 th among 50 states in providing the poorest legal representation for poor prisoners? The Marion County Court didn’t make things any easier when my entire court file mysteriously came up missing and the court reporter delayed trial transcripts. In addition, due to three potential witnesses unable to be located and my ex-trial lawyer’s unwillingness to be located, the PD was forced to continue my Post Conviction Relief hearing to September 19 th , 2007. However, because of lack of any compassion by the PD toward my case, he tried to convince me to amend my PCR petition, to only presenting a single issue of “Ineffective Assistance of Counsel” for my trial lawyer failing to call Fulton to testify on my behalf during trial. (This was a good issue, but there were many other trial errors committed by the trial lawyer and prosecutor that should’ve also been presented.) I couldn’t chance my life and freedom on this single issue because if the court denied my PCR appeal, I would not have the right to raise any other issues in federal court. As a result of my mounting frustrations in how the PD was poorly handling my case, I forced him to withdraw from representing me July 22 nd , 2007. Since then, I’ve been representing my own PCR appeal as a pro se lawyer. I’m not the most versed person in the law but I’m smart enough not to allow some “jive-turkey” PD to blow my chance of freedom. ============================================================================= I filed a continuance motion to the court in August 2007. The court granted my motion. Now my PCR hearing will be held February 18 th , 2009. FREEDOM CAMPAIGN: ============================================================================= “Although I am falling through the cracks of the system by the hour!” I started a personal letter writing campaign way before my Direct Appeal was denied February 15 th , 2002. Early on in my imprisonment I figured I had to fight for my freedom on every front in my personal abilities and access. In 2002 I posted my first online case advertisement. I gained some success from this online effort, by getting in contact with a few sincere individuals, world wide, who joined my struggle for freedom. My main aim was finding help in locating eyewitness Dakarai Fulton because his testimony guaranteed my exoneration. I contacted the NAACP, ACLU, ABA, and CSL, law schools, innocent projects, pro-bono lawyers, churches, talk shows, newspapers, and the general public. Only to be repeatedly turned down or offered very little help. The irony is that I’ve been turndown by every Innocent Project in America because my case does not involve D.N.A. evidence, but instead cross-racial misidentity the #1 documented cause of all wrongful convictions of black males. When a white eyewitness identifies a black suspect (esp. from a photo line up) identification has a 75% chance of being erroneous according to experts and legal watch groups. And this cross racial misidentity crack in the system covers all racial groups when trying to identify individuals outside their race. Then why are all Innocent Projects solely dedicated to only innocent cases where D.N.A can prove innocence? When misidentity causes most wrongful convictions, and potential exonerating eyewitnesses to be guaranteed to be around forever like D.N.A. This “no D.N.A. evidence-no help-defacto-social policy” has created a spill over that has trickled down into the perceptions of American citizens, which leaves black innocent prisoners like me, with no where to turn for assistance with misidentity cases. Let’s revisit a highly publicized cross-racial misidentity case that started March 13 th , 2006 in Raleigh, North Carolina where a black woman misidentified three white Duke University Lacrosse players, as being her sexual attackers at a party. There was a 12 week investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General that resulted in the dropping of all charges against the trio and sharp blame was given to the local district attorney for rogue prosecution. It’s obvious, because the cross-racial identification was made by a black person accusing white men in this case; the North Carolina Attorney General was willing to have consideration enough to closely examine the evidence to conclude it was a gross-misidentity on the part of the eyewitness. But if suspects were black, the media as well as the attorney general would have made them guilty before a trial took place. Although I’m extremely happy justice was served for the 3 white men in this case, my point here is to highlight the double standards of the U.S. Criminal Justice System: if your white and wealthy your case is considered for all cracks of injustice but if your black and/or poor the cracks of injustice are widen for you to apathetically fall through. We need institutions to strictly focus an all cross racial misidentity claims, or the wrongful convictions will continue, particularly at high rates against black males. However, there exists one such ideal social-legal institution called North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC), approved by North Carolina Governor Mike Easily in 2006, that considers cross-race misidentity cases where new evidence beyond D.N.A. testing can be presented to a panel of legal experts that wasn’t considered previously in court. Unfortunately, the NCIIC don’t consider cases outside of North Carolina. And there are no other states that have such a practiced institution in existence to my knowledge. It’s only practical that I redirected the course of my campaign strategies from calling on the assistance from aforementioned social-legal institutions. Therefore, I’ve become more grounded in depending on immediate grass root support and my own abilities. With the assistance of a few supporters, I’ve been able to initiate fundraising efforts, online blog campaigns, websites dedicated to my plight, the publication of booklets I authored, and case article’s in various publications all with mild success. I even put my childhood comic books and sports card collection up for sale. This hurt, because I intended on passing those collectables to my children. I am proud to admit that I receive some support from a few family members. However the problem they face as well as the supporters I’ve encountered, they are all people who are not wealthy and who have responsibilities to sustain a living for themselves and children out there. So I appreciate all the time and efforts they do dedicate to my struggle, no matter how small. Therefore, I’m always discovering innovative ways to utilize every effort for maximum benefit. Remember: Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make the biggest and meanest dog uncomfortable enough to roll over. Over the past 6 years that I’ve been engaged in the fundamentals of a public freedom struggle I have learned a lot about my self and the world. I used to be bitter early on. However, I realize life in itself is filled with intricate, subtle, obvious, frail, and powerful struggles simultaneously occurring weather we like it or not. It was a struggle for you to get out of bed this morning to go to work and it will be the same struggle tomorrow. However, the only difference we can make in such struggles is the purpose we place behind our action of resistance. And depending on the quality of that purpose, we can make the biggest struggle seem easy, the smallest to seem harder, or we can make dignity and worth out of the struggle and suffrage we are willing to endure for a particular purpose. So with my purpose being justice and freedom from wrongful imprisonment, I’m responsible to “struggle on” in a dignified way, even while I maybe falling through the cracks by the minute. Someone once told me, “Leon, I am saddened by the tragedy of your struggles as an innocent prisoner!” And I replied to them with a smile, “There is no need to be saddened by the tragedy of my struggles because what would have been truly sad and tragic is if, I were actually guilty of the crime the state accuses me of. So rejoice in my innocence and struggle with me for freedom comrade!” ============================================================================= PRESENT CASE STATUS: ============================================================================= As I have said before, I’m handling my own PCR appeal pro se. And this affords me more flexibility in specific legal issues I want to place on the table. However, pro se has more challenges due to resentment from court officials towards any prisoner lawyer. In addition, I’ve been held in the solitary confinement the past 6 years by the prison administration deeming me a threat to the safety and security of the facility stemming from my alleged involvement in a 2001 prison riot and due to my activism for my freedom to society and activism against the existing inhumane conditions of the SHU. Therefore, my access to legal research materials and my ability to locate key witnesses in society is very limited to none existent. It is difficult to hurl a concentrated campaign when I am struggling against immediate SHU conditions, being pro se, and engaged in organizing fundraisers, booklets, letters and online activity through my writing. At the moment I have no other choice though. My strategy of becoming pro se was not to litigate PCR appeal through the entire legal process but instead to buy myself more time to acquire the funds needed to hire a seasoned lawyer to take over my case. We have until June 2008 to have a good lawyer and a mass support movement on my side, in order to effectively prepare for the February 18 th , 2009 PCR hearing. I’m already meeting you halfway with all my efforts to this point as I write this article. So let’s make it happen ya’ll! A CALL FOR ============================================================================= UNIVERSAL SUPPORT: ============================================================================= It’s 2008 and I am calling on you, the person who has read my struggle to this point, for your immediate assistance in my freedom struggle. I absolutely had no involvement in the senseless crime I’m accused of. The truth never dies it’s only re-discovered with a clear mind and pure heart. Hopefully you re-discovered me and my truth today enough to help me to be apart of two kids lives as a free man. ============================================================================= Here are the following ways you can immediately assist my plight: ~ Send money contributions in form of check or money orders to: Mr. Leon Benson C/o AD Spread Collective P.O. Box 4051 Bluefield, WV 24701 ~ Help raise funds for legal defense by purchasing the following items: 1) Blessing in Disguise, Soul Survivin’ By Leon Benson $ 5.00 2) An Interview of a Caged Rose by Leon Benson $5.00 3) The SHU Laces are too Tight by Leon Benson $5.00 4) Black History Writing Paper CD/ROM $4.00 5) Mint condition collector comic books and sports cards (baseball, basketball and football) Go to www.adspread.com/blessingindisguise.htm · ~Publicize my struggles by blogging, contacting media outlets by phone, letter, or email, and make copies and pass around my information. ============================================================================= Please hurry, I’m now falling through the cracks of the system by the second, but I’ll keep struggling to hold on. Remember: “he, who does not fear the death of a thousand false accusation, will dare to upset his oppressor and take his freedom back.” =============================================================================Until we meet. Thank you for your consideration. Struggle Dignified LB ============================================================================= Contact LB at:Leon Benson #995256 WVCF P.O.Box 1111 Carlisle, IN, 47838, U.S.A ============================================================================= Or email:
- My name is Leon Benson and I am a 31 year old African American man, who has been an innocent prisoner in the state of Indiana struggling to obtain my over due exoneration the past 7 years with no luck. I am falsely convicted of the crime of murder. The reason I say "falsely" opposed to "wrongly" convicted is due to the fact "wrongly convicted prisoners" are still guilty of their crime, but there exists a technicality in the legal trial process (i.e. basically the state went about the wrong way to convict them, which is wrong according to the U.S. Constitution, because it states all individuals must receive a fair trial) but to be falsely convicted means, the prisoner is absolutely innocent of the crime they were convicted of -
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