If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my free Email alerts. Thanks for visiting!
“THE ONLY PLEA IS ‘GUILTY'”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 15, 2011) — A resident of Davidson County, TN contacted The Post & Email regarding an incident which occurred last year wherein he stated that a police officer lied and threatened a witness in order to procure a conviction.
Mr. Keith Richardson has a family and children to support but has been out of work since last March when he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after shooting a hole in the tire of a truck which belonged to him. Mr. Richardson stated that neither his wife nor children were in the area at the time. He pleaded guilty after receiving pressure from his public defenders. While he later moved to withdraw his guilty plea, his request was denied.
The witness was his wife, Ms. Dellaina Wheatly.
MRS. RONDEAU: When did the incident which landed you in court occur?
MR. RICHARDSON: It happened on March 27, 2010, between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. My wife and I had a verbal altercation, but nothing physical whatsoever. One thing that led up to it was that I was put on child support in the first part of the year. My payments were $182 a week, and I was trying to understand how I was put on child support when I’ve been dealing with my kids from Day One.
I found out when I went to the child support office and spoke with Latasha Edwards, the supervisor, who told me what actually happened. I didn’t know anything about it, and no one seemed to know what was going on with the money. A stream of money was getting blown and not spent on my kids because once you’re on child support, they have control over the money. You have no say-so whatsoever.
I just let my anger build up. I prayed, but I did wrong because I let it fester. On the morning of March 27, I heard her on the phone. She was in the other room and thought I was sleeping. I heard her whisper, “I”ll meet you around the corner,” and I thought, “Well, who is she going to go meet?” When I asked her, she said, “Oh, I’m just talking to my mother.” I replied, “Your mother doesn’t live around here, so you aren’t going to meet your mother around the corner.” And it just took off from there. We cursed at each other, but I didn’t start cursing until she cursed at me first. The things she said really hurt me because how can you tell me that I’m not worth anything; I don’t make enough money; you can have my check, but she said, “That’s not enough” and threw it in my face, saying, “I’m going to do what I want to do with it, and you can’t do a damn thing about it.” It just got the best of me.
So I went outside and zoned out. She went outside, and we were at odds. She said, “You don’t make no money; take the child support card,” and she threw the card at me.
Every vehicle that’s in our yard I bought. All I could think was “The way you talk to me and treat me, I never treated you like that.” The mistake that I made was that I let myself get so mad. I had a shotgun and she had walked up the street; she was gone. She wasn’t even around the truck, and I shot the two tires out. I shot ’em, and I put the gun up.
Somebody else called the police, thinking that I had done something to myself. When the police arrived, thinking there had been an accident, she was standin’ at the stop sign, which is probably about 15 yards away. She even came back down, and we were talkin’, and then the police pulled up and they arrested me.
When they put me in the car – I don’t know the two officers’ names, but when they put me in the car, the young officer who was driving said, “We don’t want to press no charges on Mr. Richardson because he never went after her; he didn’t threaten her; he didn’t try to do nothin’ to her; she ain’t got a mark on her whatsoever.” That’s what I heard the young police officer say. The other officer who was on the passenger side turned to the young officer and said, “I guarantee that something happened.”
When they took me down to TJC, the booking place, on the way down, they were crackin’ jokes.
That was a Saturday. On Tuesday, April 1, I had to go before my public defender. My first public defender was Ms. LaTasha Thomas. The whole time I was talkin’ to Ms. Thomas, the only words that came out of her mouth were “Mr. Richardson, they got the gun, they got the witness; you cannot plead ‘not guilty.’ Your only plea is ‘guilty.’ That’s the only thing the DA is going to accept. If you plead ‘not guilty,’ you’re probably going to sit in jail for a year and a half or two years before you have a trial.”
So the first thing I was thinkin’ is that I hadn’t been away from my kids, not like that. I was used to bein’ around my kids, and I panicked. I said, “No, there’s gotta be somethin’ better than this.” So I asked Ms. Katie Weiss, who is over Ms. LaTasha Thomas, to come in. She was on her phone the whole time and didn’t want to hear nothin’ I had to say, and every time I tried to ask Ms. Katie Weiss somethin’, she had an attitude. “Well, Mr. Richardson, the only thing that the DA wants from you is a guilty plea; you cannot plead ‘not guilty.’ Mr. Richardson, I just don’t know.” That was her whole demeanor from the day we first spoke.
MRS. RONDEAU: It is certainly not constitutional when you are told that you must plead “guilty.”
MR. RICHARDSON: It’s on my paperwork right here: “Based on the advice of his attorneys, it was the defendant’s impression that entering a guilty plea was what he should do.” So after I entered the guilty plea, I knew it was wrong. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want to be waitin’ for two years for trial. I panicked because I wanted to be around my kids. That was the bottom line. That’s why I pleaded guilty, but I wish to God I hadn’t done it, because now…I was wrong about my anger. I could understand it if I had gotten charged with discharging a firearm, but what I’m gettin’ at is that they charged me with the wrong charge. Why charge me with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when none of that took place? She wasn’t even around the truck! Heck! Anyway, I bought the truck. I went chasin’ to go get the tires, bring ’em back and put ’em on.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why do you think you were charged with something that didn’t happen?
MR. RICHARDSON: Because, for one, I heard her. I heard Ms. Wheatly. She never did anything to me. She never came after me or nothin’. You see, I was used to shootin’ M-15s, 38s, sniper rifle and a shotgun, so my aim was pretty good. What I’m gettin’ at is that I never tried to hurt her or the kids. I’m in the house right now with her and my kids.
Just the other day, she said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She said that the older police officer’s name is Steve; I don’t know his last name. She said he came first and said, “Ms. Wheatly, I’m going to write this report,” and she was standin’ on the path to the side of his truck, ’cause he was going to get a charge out of this. He told her, “If you do not go along with this, I’m going to bring charges on you.”
Now I’m already gone…I’m gone. She was thinkin’, “If I’m gone, the state is gonna get custody of our kids.” So she went along with it, and he told her to make me look as bad as she possibly could. She told him I was a homicidal maniac; she told him so much stuff…On July 7th, the same public defender, Ms. Katie Weiss, gave my post-conviction release papers. She posted my case back up.
About three weeks ago, I talked to a private attorney, Ms. Dana Nero, and I let her read the paper, and she said, “Ms. Katie Weiss opened this case back up?” and I said, “Yes.” She said, “No, this was never going to get dropped; no way, because for one, Ms. Katie Weiss, the same one who prosecuted you is the same one to revoke you.” If they had dropped it, it would have come back on her.
Ms. Nero said there was no way she would have let Ms. Weiss do the paperwork to make it look like it wasn’t her fault. She continued to reopen it because I needed the case reopened, and they wouldn’t let me see no other public defender until right now. Even now, I can’t see no other public defender except for Ms. Katie Weiss if I call. So she did satisfy me just to say she’d open the case again, knowing the whole time she would be working on it.
On July 7th, Ms. Wheatly testified on the witness stand. She told Judge Watkins everything that happened. She said, “Mr. Richardson has asked me to come up here. I’m not going to lie.” She was there to tell the truth, and that’s one thing I can appreciate about her; she’s going to tell you the truth no matter how you like it. I can say this, and she told Judge Watkins, “The officer came to me and told me if I did not go along with his statement, he was going to bring charges on me. And Mr. Richardson was already gone, and I didn’t want the state to get custody of our kids.”
The important stuff is left out of this paperwork; it’s left out. A lot of stuff that she said is left out.
MRS. RONDEAU: I’ve heard this before, that transcripts and police reports are doctored. Is that the case here?
MR. RICHARDSON: Yes, ma’am. A lot of her words that she actually said on the witness stand and told the judge are not in this paperwork. They are not in the transcript. She told the judge that the officer said he’d lock her up if she did not go along with his police report. Then on April 1, the two public defenders, Ms. LaTasha Thomas and Ms. Katie Weiss said I was pleading guilty. That’s why I’ve been trying to fight, to get this overturned…I’ve had it, I’ve had it.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you spend time in jail?
MR. RICHARDSON: Yes, ma’am, my OCA number was 396236.
MRS. RONDEAU: Was it a local jail?
MR. RICHARDSON: It was a county jail. I was there from March 27 to May 11, 2010 with three years’ probation, and this is my first offense.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you have to pay court costs?
MR. RICHARDSON: I didn’t have no money. I don’t know what my court costs are. I haven’t even gotten a printout from them yet.
Since this happened, when I did get locked up, my supervisor kept me on with a month’s leave. Even though he knew I didn’t earn it, he wanted me to come back. I’ve got a letter from corporate from the company I used to work for from corporate headquarters. A professor had written to them and they put it in my work history file. It’s from the University of Alabama and says how I did a good job. It says that Mr. Richardson was a very good driver to work with.
MRS. RONDEAU: What would have been the advantage to the court to have you plead guilty? What’s in it for them?
MR. RICHARDSON: To me, what’s in it for them is that a lot of public defenders’ goal is to one day have their own firm. The more convictions they get up under their belt, the better it looks, to the point where the state will say, “OK, you won, you won, you won this conviction. You won.” It’s like on a scale of 1 to 10, you’ve got an 80% conviction rate. It’s like anybody else doing a job; the better you do it, hopefully people will notice, and in the case of the public defenders, they could have their own law firm. That’s what I see them getting out of it. It’s also not only them; Ms. Katie Weiss has told Ms. Wheatly, “This is the way the system railroads a person when they’re poor and don’t have no money. They railroad ’em and make sure they get a conviction out of ’em and send ’em on their way.” Those were the exact words she used. If I give you the number to talk to Ms. Weiss, there’s a lot of things I know about, although some things I don’t know about.
MRS. RONDEAU: Doesn’t it cost the court money to go after innocent people?
MR. RICHARDSON: Yes, ma’am, and also, I think, from my understandin’, what I was told, when we had the trial on July 7 and she testified, the judge said he was puttin’ it off until July. I finally got the paperwork back on December 14. Ms. Dana Nero said, “This whole time they’ve been puttin’ your case off, you see this piling up on you, and you won’t even know that it’s been happening.”
Last year, the state examiner got caught with marijuana in Mississippi from the evidence locker room in Nashville. He got caught with it. Do you know what he got out of it? He didn’t get no jail time; he got some kind of specialized probation. Even without his license, he could still work. He got caught red-handed. I got proof that the officer in my case lied and that supposedly, the victim said I was about to kill her and all this, but she came forward and told them that none of this happened, and they still won’t dismiss it.
MRS. RONDEAU: Where do you think most of the corruption lies: the sheriff’s department, court personnel, the court reporter…or is it all of those people?
MR. RICHARDSON: To me, it’s just like a tidal wave. You’ve got the evidence and everything else that’s attached to it. One person is greasing somebody’s palm; do you know what I’m sayin’? There’s money involved. Ms. Katie Weiss told Ms. Wheatly that if I went ahead and paid the costs, I would probably get out of it. I didn’t have no money whatsoever. It didn’t make no difference to them because I couldn’t fight it. So they basically do whatever they want to do to you.
MRS. RONDEAU: What advantage is it to them to put someone like you on probation for three years?
MR. RICHARDSON: I have to pay $45.00 a month, and I hadn’t paid because I hadn’t had no money. The company where I was trying to go and work, if you’re not the lady’s favorite and you go there at 4:00 in the morning, you can wait ’til 9:00. If you’re not one of her favorites, she’s not going to give you anything. Even though she knows I’m a good worker, I wasn’t one of her favorites. So the few jobs I’ve done weren’t much. But you’ve got to do something because you need some kind of income comin’ in.
I’ve received a statement on my child support, and it’s up to somethin’ like $3,000 now, even though I got it reduced to $72.00 a week. The first time you don’t pay child support, you go to jail for six months. Like I told Ms. Elwood, I said, “I’m not going to pay for child support because 1) I can’t go back to my old company; 2) I can’t find a job; 3) I’ve been lookin’ everywhere, goin’ to temp companies, and even temp companies were turnin’ me down. Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon makes people think “Uh-oh, attempted murder.”
So I said, “I’m not gonna pay no more child support, and I live right here in the house with my kids. The oldest son is 12 and is her first husband’s, and this man hadn’t sent his son a birthday card, hadn’t called to tell him “Hi” – nothin’. And this son is 12 years old, and you mean to tell me “He didn’t want his wife to know he had an outside child?” Hold on! You mean to tell me you want to protect this man? This man ain’t paid child support at all. So how do you expect me to say that’s his right? You ain’t even tryin’ to go after him!
When I was workin’ in one job, I was bringin’ home about $1,100 a week. I was drivin’ trucks to Mt. Juliet, TN and worked about 75 hours a week for almost two years. When I had money and I would go cash my check, how can I sit and look at him not even wantin’ to give $20.00 for his kid? What type of person would I be if I didn’t take care of him, too? I made sure she had money.
The little things she says to me, like about two weeks ago…when she gets mad, she gets agitated, and she’ll say somethin’ to me. She said, “I need $100.” And I said, “You know I don’t have $100.” She said, “You normally have $100.” But I don’t have $100.
MRS. RONDEAU: Are you totally unemployed at this point?
MR. RICHARDSON: I ain’t got nothin’ right now, but I’m hopin’ my unemployment comes through. I forgot to tell you I had a mental breakdown. I was in the hospital from December 10 through the 14th.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why do you believe that happened?
MR. RICHARDSON: Dealing with this. Dealing with this whole felony situation. What I found out yesterday, what they said was, “Mr. Richardson, you shouldn’t have no problem qualifyin’ for Safety Net.” That’s what they told me when I got discharged from Tennessee Mental Health. “You shouldn’t have no problems gettin’ Safety Net.” But you know, the news I got yesterday was that Safety Net will not take me because I’m a convicted felon and I have an aggravated assault charge. I had to file a charge. I said, “So you mean to tell me I can’t even get no medicine that the doctor prescribed because I’m a convicted felon?” When you get a felony, the whole world is different. It’s like your whole world is turned upside down because of an officer who knew at the time I was innocent, and he wanted to see me charged with somethin’.
He became the judge that mornin’. He wanted to make sure I got charged with somethin’. My life is hell, and he’s still out there on the police force. I’m not the only person he has done this to; I know it. I know in my heart I’m not the only person. I want to say to Judge Watkins, “You would rather keep an officer on the police force who you know destroyed somebody’s life?”
I just want somethin’, somebody who can see this thing and say, “You know what? I’ll help you. I’ll help you with this case.” I went to the NAACP. I went to the ACLU. I went to everybody around in Nashville, and they said, “I can’t do nothin’ for you; I can’t do nothin’ for you because there’s no money.”
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you believe the judge presiding over your case was honest?
MR. RICHARDSON: Judge Watkins said on July 7th, “Well, Mr. Richardson pleaded guilty.” Ms. Katie Weiss told him the reason why I pleaded guilty, because I didn’t want to spend all that time away from my kids, and that I panicked. And his only words were, “Well, he pleaded guilty.” He basically shut out every other thing, because his own position was, “He pleaded guilty. If he had pleaded not guilty, it would have been different.” That’s what it says on the paperwork.
And here’s another thing: the whole affidavit is a lie. And the judge is on the affidavit as a liar. He read me the transcript: “Based on the advice of his attorneys, it was the defendant’s impression that entering a guilty plea was what he should do. Now, the defendant alleges that his conviction was invalid because he pled to information based on the warrant affidavit which he now alleges was incorrect.” The affidavit is a damned lie.