BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
His name was Allen Hall.
In 1972, Hall was the chief witness for the prosecution in the conspiracy trials against the Wilmington Ten – ten civil rights activists, led by the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis – accused of firebombing a white-owned grocery store during the height of racial violence in Wilmington in 1971.
According to New Hanover County prosecutor James Jay Stroud, Hall, a convicted felon, had the goods on Chavis and the others, and could confirm details of the conspiracy and plot.
There was just one problem with Stroud’s plan – in order to get Hall to testify to those false details in court, he had to keep the young troubled black man happy.
And in a forty-year-old letter from prison – a copy of which was obtained exclusively by The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers Tuesday from the Stroud files, now being kept in the archives at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library – Allen Hall wanted the prosecutor to keep him happy.
“Just a few lines to tell you that I need a woman,” was the very first sentence of the letter from Onslow County inmate Hall to prosecutor Stroud, dated August 16th, 1972.
Further in the missive Hall, who refers to himself as “Allen Graham,” tells the prosecutor,” you feel like a father to me, and that is why I call on you so much when I need someone.”
Saying that he didn’t have a father when he was growing up, Hall tells Stroud,” You make me know the real Allen, and what life is about. But the love that what (sic) I have for you is what a son have for a father. To me you are that father I never had.”
Hall talks about not caring what black people in Wilmington, or apparently one of his girlfriends, “Deborah,” thinks about his testifying against Ben Chavis. And yet, Hall openly struggles with the idea that he will testify against Chavis, apparently at the direction of prosecutor Stroud.
“Will my love (sic) ones have a bad time for me [if] I tell on Chavis [?],” Hall writes. “My mind is going up and down, and around, when will it stop. How many times will I ask myself this over and over [?]”
By the end of the three-page letter, Hall is literally begging Stroud to let him see either Deborah or “Antionette.”
Hall closes the letter by writing, “I will be a good nigger. From Allen Graham, or Stroud Jr.”
It was clear from the letter that Stroud’s star witness was emotionally attached to the white prosecutor. But it was also clear from notes in Stroud’s admitted own handwriting, that he was having trouble with Hall.
In June 1972, when Stroud was contemplating forcing a mistrial in the first Wilmington Ten trial because the jury was ten blacks and two whites, the prosecutor drew up a list of “Disadvantages and Advantages of a Mistrial.”
The Number Two reason on the disadvantages side was, “could affect Hall’s attitude and other witnesses.”
The Number 7 reason on the “advantages” was “…to keep out Hall’s letter”…from the trial, apparently one of many Hall had written, that would somehow cast doubt on his witness testimony, or suggest that Stroud was putting him up to it.
When the first trial was indeed aborted, and the second commenced in Sept. 1972,
Hall did testify against the Wilmington Ten. But at one point during the trial, he became so enraged under cross-examination by defense attorney James Ferguson that Hall leapt off the stand in anger to attack Ferguson, only to be restrained by sheriff’s deputies.
The judge blamed Ferguson, not Hall, for the disruption.
The Wilmington Ten were all convicted and sentenced to 282 years in prison.
Several years later, Allen Hall and two other witnesses Stroud got to testify, told a judge that they all committed perjury, and recanted their testimonies.
They had all been paid in some form or fashion by the prosecutor, they claimed.
In Hall’s case, he was allowed to stay in a beach house, and see his girlfriend there, when he still had time to serve in prison.
In a letter that Hall sent to The Wilmington Journal when he was apparently serving time for another crime, he titles it, “A Cry for Help,” and states in it, “I have told you the people what they would do to me, to try and stop me from telling you the lies that [District Attorney] Allen Cobb and them made tell in court on Rev. Chavis an (sic) the Wilmington Ten.”
It was revealed in the December 1980 decision by the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that Allen Hall suffered from a mental illness, and Prosecutor Stroud knew, but failed to disclose that, and the fact that Hall had gotten medical attention for it, to the defense, for fear that it would have disqualified his testimony.
“These convictions were reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 4, 1980 as a result of that Court’s studied determinations that prosecutorial misconduct and other constitutional violations occurred during the Wilmington Ten prosecutions and trials,” attorney Irving Joyner for the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, wrote in his legal petition for pardons of innocence to Gov. Beverly Perdue last May.
Joyner, in the legal petition, continued, “The only substantial witness that the State presented a trial was a convicted felon, Allen Hall, who testified that he along with other students allegedly engaged in a series of fire-bombings and fire-arm assaults upon police officers following a training session which Rev. Chavis conducted in the sanctuary at Gregory Congregational UCC. Hall’s testimony, which was given during a week of heated and contentious testimony, was the only alleged eyewitness account of criminal conduct by any Wilmington Ten member during the events from February 4th through February 7th when the students used and then vacated the Church’s sanctuary. Hall’s testimony was peripherally supported by Jerome Mitchell, a convicted felon and seventeen year old high school dropout, and Eric Junius, a twelve-year-old Junior High School drop-out. As recognized by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals: “When the trial record is examined, it is readily apparent that North Carolina’s case depended entirely on Hall’s credibility.”
Joyner continued, “During Hall’s trial testimony, he was repeatedly and vigorously cross-examined by defense attorneys who confronted Hall with numerous significant contradictions between his trial testimony and statements which he made in prior written statements to the Prosecutor. When repeatedly asked by defense attorneys to reconcile the discrepancies, Hall testified that he had amended the earlier statements with the State’s Prosecutor. Efforts by defense attorneys to obtain copies of the amended statements were resisted by the Prosecutor and upheld by the Trial Judge. At one point during Hall’s cross-examination, he became so enraged at the insistent and grueling questioning by Defense Attorney James Ferguson that he rushed from the witness stand and attempted to physically attack Ferguson in open Court.”
Joyner’s petition continued “In 1975, soon after the Supreme Court refusal to grant certiorari to review the convictions, Allen Hall recanted his trial testimony and publically admitted that he lied as a result of inducements and promises which were made to him by the State Prosecutor. Following Hall’s recantation, Jerome Mitchell and Eric Junius also recanted their testimonies.”
Joyner, a professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, told The Wilmington Journal that the Stroud files contained numerous troubling documents beyond just the racist jury selection notes, an Stroud calculus for causing a mistrial.
“My recollection,” Prof. Joyner said, “is that there are notes in the file relating to:
1. Stroud’s efforts to move Hall and Mitchell from different prison camps through the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department to the beach where they stayed during the trial.
2. Information regarding the use of New Hanover County Deputies and Wilmington Police officers to guard Hall and Mitchell while they were at the beach.
3. Information regarding efforts to transport a young girl, along with her mother, to the beach because Hall said that the two of them were in love and he needed to see and talk with her.
4. One or more letters from Hall telling Stroud that he was like the father to Hall that he never had and how much he loved him.
5. I believe that there was reference to an assault by Hall upon one of the officers while they stayed at the beach and Stroud’s decision not to prosecute Hall for this crime because it might upset him.
6. I also believe that there was a note regarding a decision to move Hall and Mitchell to another beach rental because they saw [Wilmington Ten defense attorney James] Ferguson and some of the other attorneys walking on the beach near where Hall and Mitchell were initially being hidden.”
Allen Hall died several years ago.
Only his many letters speak for him now.