BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Saying that former New Hanover County prosecutor James Jay Stroud is “delusional” for still defending his “frame-up” ” of the Wilmington Ten forty years ago, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, leader of the Ten, and others in the pardons effort, maintain that Stroud’s recent remarks in a StarNews interview this week are further evidence, beyond his own recently discovered handwritten trial notes documenting his attempt to racially gerrymander the jury and cause a mistrial, that pardons of innocence from Gov. Perdue are well deserved.
“Facts are facts, and it is an irrefutable fact that all the members of the Wilmington Ten were completely innocent in 1972 of the racially-motivated framed-up charges filed against us by prosecutor Jay Stroud,” Dr. Chavis told The Wilmington Journal exclusively late Wednesday evening.
“It is a fact that the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned our unjust convictions on December 4, 1980. Today in 2012, we, the Wilmington Ten, are still innocent of Stroud’s unjust and illegal fabrication,” Dr. Chavis maintained.
In a StarNews interview reportedly conducted in October, but only published Wednesday online after the NCNAACP’s Tuesday press conference in Raleigh calling upon Gov. Beverly Perdue to pardon the Wilmington Ten, Stroud was reportedly shown copies of his handwritten notes from the June 1972 trial by a reporter, and confirmed their authenticity.
But the former prosecutor denied that racism, as the NCNAACP maintains, played any role in his jury selection. The “KKK…good” reference he wrote in variations next to several white potential jurors’ names on the legal pad, for example, “…was a strike against the juror because of the potential of a hung jury,” the story said.
“I could have had an all-white jury, but I didn’t want to do that,” Stroud told the StarNews. “Why would I leave a KKK on the jury?”
That rhetorical question runs counter to the written record.
The StarNews apparently failed to challenge Stroud on other written notations showing that he approved of several white potential jurors if they did have Ku Klux Klan attitudes.
Next to potential juror #6 Stroud wrote, “Heath (O.K.) (KKK?).” Number 28 he wrote, “(probably o.k.) if white.”
And potential juror number 52 named “Bryant,” prosecutor Stroud wrote, “(KKK) good.”
Stroud’s negative ratings for potential jurors were unmistakable. Next to several on his list, especially if they had a “B” written in front of their names or numbers, Stroud wrote, “Leave off” or “stay away from,” but never “good.”
Stroud further told the StarNews that he wanted “conservative blacks” on the jury, later specifying that “Uncle Tom-type” means, “blacks that could be fair.”
But the StarNews apparently didn’t ask Stroud why he wrote “Stay away from black men” at the top of one of his jury selection notes, or didn’t want black jurors from certain towns in Pender County, where that trial had been moved to.
Because a jury of ten blacks and two whites was finally impaneled during the June 1972 trial, Stroud, citing “illness,” forced a mistrial to get a jury and judge more to his favor, the NCNAACP says. His own handwritten notes on the back of a legal pad, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a mistrial, betrayed his intent, the civil rights organization says.
But in its interview, the StarNews apparently never asked Stroud about his written mistrial calculations, which included getting a different judge.
It was in the second trial in September that year –with a jury this time of ten whites and two blacks – that the nine African-American males, led by civil rights activist Rev. Benjamin Chavis, and one white female, were falsely convicted for conspiracy in the firebombing of a white-owned grocery store during racial violence in Wilmington in February 1971.
They were all sentenced to 282 years in prison, some of which they served, before they were released from prison early after immense public pressure.
In the StarNews article, former prosecutor Stroud still maintained that despite a federal appellate court’s 1980 ruling – which not only overturned all of the Wilmington Ten’s convictions, but also cited him specifically for gross prosecutorial misconduct – the Wilmington Ten were guilty, and deserved to go to prison.
“They got more than a fair deal as far as I’m concerned,” Stroud was quoted as telling the Wilmington newspaper. “I think they should have had to serve their sentences like any other convicted felon.”
Ironically, in that same StarNews article where Stroud is convinced that the Wilmington Ten couldn’t have possibly been anything but guilty, he adamantly agreed that prosecutorial frame-ups do exist.
When asked about his twelve convictions over the past six years, mostly in Gaston County, for charges ranging from domestic violence, to repeatedly ramming cars because, Stroud told a judge, “Satan was with [the drivers],” Stroud, who lost his license to practice law in 2008, told the StarNews, “I am not guilty of any of the charges that were leveled against me as stated in the warrants. All of the charges were false and fabricated.”
Jay Stroud did serve time in jail for several of those charges. He told the Gaston Gazette in 2011 that he’s suffered from a bipolar disorder since his time in college.
Attorney Irving Joyner, who, along with James Ferguson, the lead defense attorney forty years ago for the Wilmington Ten, filed the pardon petition papers last May requesting that Gov. Beverly Perdue grant pardons of actual innocence to each member of the Wilmington Ten, was resolute.
“We have never presented any information regarding the Wilmington Ten case which has not been fully vetted and determined to be absolutely accurate,” Joyner, who is also a law professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in Durham, said late Wednesday night.
“Jay Stroud did no more than acknowledge the obvious with respect to his authorship of the racially inspired efforts to prevent African-Americans from serving on the Wilmington Ten jury. In the same handwriting, he also described his successful effort to fake an illness, misrepresent his medical condition to the Court, and to deliberately perpetrate a fraud in Court, a criminal offense,” Joyner continued.
“The comments and notes, which Stroud made, speak for themselves, and further support the obvious conclusion that the persecution of the Wilmington Ten was racially inspired and constitutionally deficient.”
“It is now up to the Governor of North Carolina,” Joyner said, “to determine whether she is going to correct an injustice, or stand on the side of a racist and illegal persecution in the name of the State of North Carolina.”
Renowned UNC – Chapel Hill criminal law Professor Richard Rosen, in his letter to Gov. Beverly Perdue supporting pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten, wrote, “It has been clear for decades that the Wilmington Ten defendants were innocent of all of the charges brought against them, and were the victims of a politically motivated prosecution brought at a time of acute racial friction.”
“The key prosecution witnesses have long since recanted their testimony,” Prof. Rosen continued. “All of the defendants in this case claimed that they were innocent from the very moment of arrest, and most turned down lenient plea bargains offered by the prosecution, leading to the subsequent lengthy prison terms. [Four] of them are now dead, and all have struggled to repair their lives.”
In addition, Michael Carmichael, a former public information officer with the NC State Attorney General’s Office at the time of the Wilmington Ten case, says Stroud’s prosecution was without foundation from start to finish.
“The Wilmington Ten were railroaded to jail in a kangaroo court where the eyewitnesses were all teenaged felons who had been bribed, coerced and coached to perjure themselves,” Carmichael wrote in a comment to a story in the Raleigh News & Observer this week. “[The witnesses’] testimony was rehearsed. The federal court ruled that not one shred of evidence links any of the defendants to the crime.”
At Tuesday’s NCNAACP press conference, veteran civil rights attorney told reporters the trial tactics Stroud used were illegal, and that the State Bureau of Investigation should look into the matter, and then put the former prosecutor in jail.
Stroud’s defiant attitude didn’t not surprise Wilmington Ten member Wayne Moore, who says that Stroud’s dogged campaign to persecute Moore and the nine other young civil rights activists ultimately led to his own professional downfall.
“From the beginning, Stroud’s colleagues in Wilmington, including head prosecutor Alan Cobb, knew that Stroud was up to no good,” Moore, 60, said in an email statement from Michigan Wednesday evening. “Following the Wilmington Ten case, Stroud was ostracized from practicing law in New Hanover County.”
“He was an ambitious young attorney who didn’t care who he hurt along the way, including his [boss],” Moore, who spent several years in prison because of Stroud, added.
“Stroud’s latest admissions of his zeal to unjustly convict us is just another fact why the Wilmington Ten should be granted a pardon of innocence by Governor Perdue,” W-Ten leader Dr. Benjamin Chavis says. “Stroud is still delusional forty years later about basic fairness and equality under the law.”
“I pray that Stroud will one day find it in his heart to repent for the wrong that he has done with respect to the Wilmington Ten.”
NC NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, who blasted Stroud Tuesday for his “unconstitutional” and “racist” tactics to “frame” the Wilmington Ten, found his StarNews comments justification for singling the former prosecutor out for further condemnation.
“The more we learn the truths about how race polluted and poisoned the unjust, unconstitutional and unethical prosecutorial acts utilized on this case by Stroud, to frame and falsely convict these young people, the more disturbing they are,” Rev. Barber exclusively told The Wilmington Journal Wednesday evening.
“We have a crooked prosecutor who fostered a crooked persecution of innocent individuals, who now wants to admit on one hand his actions, and then on the other hand engage in a distressing revisionist rationale as to why he did what he did. NC must see all of these facts for what they are and represent—- calculated and sinister racism used in our court system.”
Rev. Barber continued, “Only a pardon can begin to cleanse the depth of wrong being further revealed.”