“HE KNOWS ME VERY WELL”
by Sharon Rondeau
Friday’s hearing on the matter specifically focused on Story’s request that Judge Chris Craft recuse himself for bias. The first hearing in the renewed case was February 11, 2019.
Arrested on January 31, 1997, the charge against Story was dismissed by a judge on April 3 of that year for “lack of probable cause.” However, several months later, he was rearrested and charged with the same crime, ultimately leading to a conviction following trial. He has since been attempting to clear his name and record.
Last October, Story contacted the court’s Division III, where his original case was tried, with the exculpatory evidence he acquired in late 2017. The evidence consists of an SCSO record of the confidential informant’s activities between May 23, 1991 and May 23, 1998 and letter sent to a federal public defender then representing death-row inmate Tony Carruthers. After receiving it from his attorney, Carruthers sent it to Story.
The record contains no entry for the date on which Story was convicted of selling marijuana: January 22, 1997. In interviews with this publication and blogger/researcher Fergus Nolan of the MemphisTruthCommission blog in recent weeks, Story has produced voluminous documentation showing not only that his original charge was dismissed by a judge early on, but also that the car he was allegedly driving at the time he was said to have sold marijuana to CI Alfredo Shaw was impounded.
In February, Story was granted a hearing in Division VIII, where Judge Chris Craft presides. In 2004, Craft denied Story’s post-conviction appeal; he also sentenced Story to ten days in jail after finding him in “contempt of court” for allegedly interrupting him in the courtroom. Story has questioned not only Craft’s neutrality, but also why his recent request for a case review was not assigned to Division III, in accordance with Tennessee law, rather than in Division VIII.
Given Craft’s previous involvement, including his misrepresentation of Story as having accepted a “guilty” plea at a hearing of the private parole board to which Story’s record was sent and the jail sentence, Story has requested that Craft recuse himself from further proceedings as he attempts to clear his name.
During an earlier hearing on Story’s Writ, Craft again threatened him with jailing if he continued to “interrupt” him.
Story is certain that his arrest in early 1997 was retaliation on the SCSO’s part for his having informed the FBI and NAACP that conditions in the Shelby County jail, where he was assigned at the time, were cruel, inhumane, dangerous and fatal in at least one instance. His claims were borne out when in 2000, following federal civil litigation, the U.S. Justice Department conducted an investigation and issued a detailed report of numerous and serious deficiencies mandated to be corrected by the federal judge and Special Master assigned to the case.
CI Alfredo Shaw, a known criminal, testified at both the trial of Story and Tony Carruthers, who was sentenced to death after having been convicted of a Memphis triple murder. Shaw later said he was intimidated into providing false testimony about Carruthers, research by MemphisTruthCommission shows.
Years ago, Shaw confessed in a recorded interview with then-Memphis Flyer journalist Phil Campbell to falsely testifying against Carruthers. Campbell shortly thereafter left the area and is now working in Brooklyn, NY, MemphisTruth reported on April 2.
On October 29, 2018, Story drafted a Writ of Coram Nobis and a letter to the court asking for a hearing to present the exculpatory evidence in the hope of proving false his felony conviction from nearly two decades ago. The new information was directed to the criminal court’s Division III, where Story was brought to trial in 1999.
As in 1997 and 2003, the National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF) is again involved in Story’s quest for justice, having recently issued a press release and calling upon Story’s congressman, Steve Cohen (D-TN9), the Memphis FBI, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to review the case.
NPDF founder and president Joe Occhipinti has said that Story’s two-decade-long effort to have his conviction overturned is not typical of a guilty party and that when he spoke with a Memphis FBI agent about the case years ago, the agent “shared similar concerns of Sgt. Story’s innocence.”
Story, who is representing himself, told The Post & Email that he was in court Friday for about 90 minutes, of which approximately ten minutes were spent in front of the judge.
He further told us:
I asked him to recuse from hearing the case because I did not believe that he would give me a fair trial in his court. I also informed him of Tennessee law 40-30-108, which states the District Attorney could have properly filed a motion to dismiss if I had filed my writ in another court than the trial court. I informed the judge that he was not my trial judge when I was convicted on 12/9/1999 and that I was inside the wrong court. Judge Craft stated that he was the assigned judge because the trial judge of Division III, Judge John Colton, was retired.
That is not the law and this court is cannot change the law. When Judge Craft was an administrative judge over where James Earl Ray‘s case would be heard, the Shelby County DA’s office wanted the case to be heard in Division III in 1969, because that was the original trial court for Ray, and Judge Preston Battles was the judge. Judge Joe Brown wanted James Earl Ray to remain in his court, Division 9.
The end result was that James Earl Ray was ruled to be tried in his trial conviction court, Division III. The rule is that a writ of an error coram nobis is assigned to the court in which the conviction was tried.
On Friday the courtroom was kind-of crowded, and I think it was by design, because he wanted to make me seem incompetent; at least that was my perception. When he first called me up, he asked me whether I was going to subpoena anybody. So I started to read from my motion that I submitted concerning him being recused from the case. He did not want me read. He said, “Don’t read.” He was really trying to confuse me. Then I mentioned the fact that I was not supposed to be in his courtroom. He did not want to hear that.
After everything that I would do or say, it was not according to the law. He told me to sit down and he would call me back up in five minutes, so I guess he was trying to make me seem incompetent. The second time, I got up. There were some court-watchers there. I made up my mind that whatever I said, it would not be right, so I said what was on my heart. I told him, The reason I don’t want you on my case is that when I received this evidence from Tony Carruthers, I knew it would have cleared me of this false conviction.
When I said, “Tony Carruthers, it kind-of perked up the courtroom, but at the same time, he had lawyers in there and everything else. I told him about Tony Carruthers and everything he gave me, which started my case. He was trying to make me sound unintelligent. So I asked him, Judge Craft, “I don’t think you care for me and you’ve got a personal vendetta.” That started something. He denied it. Then I said, “Can I ask you something, Judge?” and he said, “Yes, yes yes.” I said, “Why is my personal court jacket kept in your personal quarters in your court and not in the criminal court clerk’s office like everybody else’s?”
He said, “Well, you file motions and I have to keep it in there, and you can come in my courtroom and come get it anytime you want.” I said, “I don’t want to go in your courtroom; I want to go into the criminal court clerk’s office just like everybody else. Do you have anybody else’s case in your courtroom?” He tried to play that off, saying, “Mr. Story, I don’t even know you, because I have hundreds and thousands of people coming in. I don’t know you.” But he knows me very well.
In order for me to see my jacket, I have to go to the judge’s courtroom. The judge shouldn’t have a personal interest in anyone’s jacket. When I filed my post-conviction conviction in 2003 which Judge Craft denied in 2004, he responded to the allegation that I was making against him. On page 8, in allegation 11, he wrote, “Petitioner complains that this Court has kept the court records in this case and instructed him to come to court to receive whatever he needs from them. This is correct. Once this petition was transferred to Division VIII, this Court was informed by the Criminal Court Clerk’s office that it wished me to keep the original trial jackets and petition jacket, as when the petition was assigned to prior courts, petitioner had been demanding to see his files at the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office on the Fourth Floor in an abusive manner, and had cursed the assistant clerks and ‘thrown a tantrum.'”
He lied! I never had a word of disrespect or an argument in the criminal court clerk’s office. That has never happened. If I had come down there with any hostility, I would have been arrested; there are cameras and everything. When a judge lies like that, he has to have a personal agenda.
Another hearing is scheduled for this coming Friday, April 12, at 9:00 a.m. local time, Story said, at which time Craft is expected to respond to the recusal request “in writing.”