FALSELY-ACCUSED FORMER JAIL OFFICER CONTINUES TO SEEK EXONERATION
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 23, 2019) — On Thursday, Memphis resident Earley Story went to the Shelby County courthouse at 201 Poplar Street, accompanied by an acquaintance, to file documents he said should prove him innocent of a 1999 conviction for selling marijuana to an undercover officer and confidential informant in January 1997.
As The Post & Email has reported since November, Story has appealed the conviction over the years but been met with stoic denial on the part of Judge Chris Craft, who was formerly an assistant prosecutor.
We were first alerted to what appears to be systemic corruption in Shelby County, which comprises Tennessee’s 30th Judicial District, more than two years ago after Tennessee state inmates Jerome L. Johnson and Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III provided accounts of an August 2016 post-conviction hearing for Johnson in front of Judge Lee Coffee, also a former Shelby County prosecutor.
Both inmates were then housed at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) but transported to the Shelby County jail for a temporary stay to attend the hearing. Johnson called Fitzpatrick as an expert witness as to the form and function of Tennessee’s grand juries, which Fitzpatrick had been researching since fall 2009.
Fitzpatrick was released from state custody in October 2016 after suffering medical complications and two surgeries while in prison.
Following the two men’s stay at 201 Poplar, a significant number of Shelby County inmates contacted this publication with the complaint that the current District Attorney General, Amy Weirich, who is the district’s chief prosecutor, had committed frequent misconduct, including that for which she received a private reprimand in March 2017 in connection with the Noura Jackson case. We continue to receive communications from inmates at the jail, where Story was working during the 1990s while employed by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO).
In late 2017, The Post & Email reported on the false arrests by the Memphis Police Department and prosecutions by Weirich’s office of April Malone and Celitria Watson, who are now plaintiffs in a federal civil-rights suit against Shelby County, the Memphis Police Department, several of its detectives, and three of Weirich’s assistant prosecutors. On January 30, a trial date was set for December of this year.
At the time of Story’s arrest, William Gibbons was the District Attorney General; he later served in former Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet as the Commissioner for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
One of Story’s first defense attorneys was Coffey’s wife, court documents show, for which Story said she volunteered during a chance encounter. Mrs. Coffee is now deceased.
Over more than two decades, Story has meticulously collected evidence and preserved documents from his time as a Shelby County jailer substantiating his reports to the FBI and NAACP of violence, substandard conditions, injury and an inmate death. He is convinced his January 31, 1997 arrest was a result of his aggressive reporting to local and federal authorities of the dangerous conditions, which were corroborated by two federal lawsuits, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a number of news articles.
Story was consequently fired from the Sheriff’s Office and has not been able to secure full-time employment since that time because of the felony on his record. Then 43, he is now 65 years old. There are five others who Story said were “framed” at the same time he was accused.
Last October, Story came into possession of a document generated by the SCSO regarding the confidential informant (CI) who accompanied the undercover officer to snag street drug dealers in a significant number of transactions between May 1991 and May 1998. The document came to him by way of a death-row inmate, Tony Carruthers, whose then-federal public defender had requested it and ultimately received it. However, an accompanying letter from the SCSO’s legal representative, Debra Fessenden, expressed the SCSO’s refusal to disclose CI Alfredo Shaw’s past criminal history “absent a Court Order.”
The date for which Story was convicted of selling the marijuana, January 22, 1997, is not listed on the transaction log, a point Story attempted to make at a hearing held on February 11, scheduled at his request after he filed a Writ of Coram Nobis and submitted it, along with the log, to the court on October 29, 2018.
Also on February 11, the National Defense Police Foundation (NPDF) came out publicly in support of Story’s quest to clear his name given his original contact with the organization in May 1997 and the new evidence which has come to light.
Again presiding over the case, Judge Chris Craft took issue with the way Story responded to his questions, threatening him with contempt of court, which he had used against Story previously by imposing a ten-day jail term. Convicted on December 9, 1999, Story’s sentence was reduced to probation only, with the jail term imposed later.
Shaw had testified at Story’s trial, and, Story said, lied when he said that Story sold him the drug. Story believes that Shaw may also have lied to incriminate Carruthers, whose appeals are reportedly nearly exhausted.
Prior to Story’s jury trial and conviction, Judge Ann Pugh had dismissed the charge with the notation that there was a “lack of probable cause” (shown in documents below). However, several months later, Story was arrested on the same charge and ultimately convicted of the crime.
He has since been attempting to clear his name and his record. Another hearing is scheduled for March 4 for which Story is hoping to have legal representation.
On Thursday, Story delivered the following documents to the Shelby County Criminal Court, before which he told The Post & Email, “I’m submitting an amendment, and I believe it’s going to close the door on all of it. This should close it completely. I have so much information from over the years. I put something together that I think should be plain to anybody who wants the truth.”
After filing the documents with the court, Story wrote in an email:
I am trying to explain that the district attorneys office did not disregard just any judge, but they willfully ignored one of the most powerful first Lady judge in Shelby County.
You will never hear a negative comment towards her integrity as a judge. Of course,she was not aware of the activity of going against her order.
The other documents just enhance the redacted drug document that Shelby County DA Debra Fessenden sent to federal defender Paul Bottei concerning Alfredo Shaw and the drugs transactions payment dates!
The forms easily shows the receipt numbers and the serial numbers that was redacted to disguise the false arrest and information to protect the Shelby County narcotics officers!
I know that this is criminal and I believe is evidence of the corruption that has been allowed to exist for over 2 decades.
I have tried to make the point that this false evidence was produced ,after judge Pugh ruling ,and therefore violating a very serious crime for breach of the prosecutors sworn duty to protect the public from!
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.