FORMER JAILER HAS LIVED WITH FALSE FELONY CONVICTION FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 8, 2019) — On Monday morning, former Shelby County, TN Sheriff’s Office sergeant Earley Story attended a hearing at the Shelby County Justice Center, a continuation of a proceeding he requested last fall in an attempt to overturn a 22+-year conviction.
As The Post & Email has documented since November, Story possesses compelling evidence, some of it relatively new to him, that he did not sell marijuana to an undercover agent and his confidential informant, Alfredo Shaw, on January 22, 1997, the date for which Story was convicted in December 1999.
Arrested on January 31, 1997, on April 3 of that year, Judge Ann Pugh dismissed the case, citing lack of probable cause. However, four months later, Story was charged a second time with the same crime, in possible violation of the Fifth Amendment and Article I, Section 10 of the Tennessee Constitution.
At the time of his first arrest, Story was employed by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) as a jailer at the Shelby County jail. After observing what he found to be horrendous conditions, he reported his findings to the Memphis FBI and Memphis office of the NAACP. His statements about the jail environment were supported by a 1996 lawsuit, Little v. Shelby County; two other similar, contemporaneous lawsuits; and an investigation conducted by the U.S. Justice Department in 2000.
As a result of Little, a Special Master was appointed to oversee judicially-ordered changes at the jail. According to a summary of the case, “On December 22, 2000, the District Court (Judge McCalla) issued a 43-page order, finding the defendants in contempt of court. In the order, the Court incorporated many of Judge Turner’s findings of fact, including the insufficiency of guard presence, monitoring, overcrowding, excessive noise, gang activity, and failures in classification. The Court ordered the defendants to submit short-term remedial plans. On January 10, 2001, the District Court (Judge McCalla) ordered short-term remedial action to correct the violation of inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights. Litigation followed respecting defendants’ proposed intermediate and long-term plans to correct the Eighth Amendment violations, which included the construction of a new Jail annex.”
Story believes the marijuana charge was concocted by his employer out of retaliation for his whistle-blowing, engaging a sheriff’s deputy and Shaw in the scheme. Story contends that Shaw lied at his trial, perhaps under the threat of being exposed for committing perjury. Evidence is also mounting that Shaw might have perjured himself at as many as 14 other trials which took place during the same time frame and for which at least one prisoner, Tony Carruthers, is now on death row.
Story has previously identified two of the individuals against whom Shaw testified.
Through the presentation of an extraordinary number of documents and audio-recordings amassed since 1997, Story has made a strong case that Shelby County Criminal Court Division VIII Judge Chris Craft is biased against him, having ruled against his post-conviction petition and his appeals since 2003 and misrepresenting the circumstances of his conviction to a private probation board in 2010. However, Craft continues to preside over the revived proceedings by which Story is seeking to overturn the conviction. “It’s a no-win situation,” Story observed to us on Tuesday.
At an initial hearing this year on February 11, Craft threatened to hold Story in contempt of court, as he has on other occasions, for allegedly interrupting him while he was speaking. Story told The Post & Email afterward that he was attempting to respectfully respond to the judge’s comments rather than interrupt him.
Craft followed through on that threat previously, Story showed in a court-generated document which sentenced him to ten days in the jail where he once worked.
Well in advance of the February 11, 2019 hearing, Story provided new evidence in the form of a transaction log detailing Shaw’s undercover work for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. The log had been requested by an attorney representing Carruthers and provided to him with a December 2017 letter. The documentation made its way to Carruthers at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, then from Carruthers to Story. The log was noted as having been provided by the SCSO’s legal counsel, Deborah Fessenden, to Carruthers’s then-public defender.
Significantly, the date on which Story was alleged to have sold drugs to Shaw, January 22, 1997, is not listed on the transaction log, which encompasses May 1991 to May 1998.
In a mailing dated October 29, 2018, Story sent a copy of the log, the SCSO letter and a Writ of Coram Nobis to the Shelby County Criminal Court, Division III, where his trial took place almost 20 years ago. However, he received a response indicating that a hearing had been scheduled for February 11 in Division VIII, where Craft presides.
After contacting the clerk at Division VIII, The Post & Email was told that because Craft was the last adjudicator on Story’s case, any new activity would be assigned to him.
At last month’s hearing, Craft said he had not received the new evidence he provided, Story said, at which time a clerk handed the document to Craft. “When the lady handed him the paper, he turned it over,” Story recalled.
As in 1997 and again in 2003, Story’s conviction has captured the attention and support of the National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF), which issued three letters dated March 7, 2019, respectively, to U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and the Memphis bureau of the FBI requesting a review of Story’s case.
Arrested when he was 43, Story, now 65, has not been able to secure full-time employment since the felony conviction.
Story told The Post & Email that the financial and reputational damage done to not only him, but also to his family members, is immeasurable. “My family has lost a lot in the history of this case! My children was embarrassed and injured early in their life! My wife and I have refinanced our homes, lost cars and other things due to this allowed misconduct! I want closure the way every America citizen that has been wronged by the system for being maliciously prosecuted, and that is through a fair court!” he wrote on Friday morning.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Story detailed an interesting aspect of his case. After his conviction by a jury on December 9, 1999, he was sentenced to one year of probation and referred to a private probation entity. However, Story explained, because he was convicted of a felony, he should have been entered into the state probation system under the authority of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). That issue, he said, prompted him to write a letter of complaint to the private probation council, which eventually led to his discharge from all supervision and a refund of his fee.
“For this charge, I didn’t serve any time. When I went to the probation company and told them I was framed — you have to give a written statement on the circumstances — I told them exactly what happened and that I was going to fight it. They sent me my $45 back and put in writing that I was not on probation. They backed all the way off on it,” Story said.
“Chris Craft was over the probation management group. I filed a complaint to them concerning that because I thought they assigned me to a private probation company to silence me. Craft had a hearing — and he knew it was me — and during that hearing they were discussing my particular case.”
The hearing took place on March 5, 2010, with Craft designated “Chairman” of the council.
“I got the audio from the private probation council. At the end, Craft was laughing when he said I couldn’t get a job because of the felony conviction. So I am now in a courtroom where a man who is presiding said, falsely, that I pleaded ‘guilty’ when I did not.”
“During the meeting, Craft pretended that he did not know me. When a lady asked why I was assigned to the private probation council with a felony conviction, Craft said something about the judges not knowing anything about it. The lady said it was against the law, and it was against the law.
“There were nine or ten of them in the meeting. One of those present was reading my letter, and when he came to the part where I was talking about attorneys associated with the case, Craft gave him a heads-up. They didn’t say any names. At the end of the discussion, they were talking off-the-record, but the recording was still going, and Craft said it was ‘impossible for him to win on appeal on a guilty plea.’ But I didn’t plead guilty.”
“For him to have put in writing that I pleaded guilty, I have to make that known some kind of way,” Story said in regard to the next hearing scheduled for March 21.
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.