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“IT’S NOTHING BUT A COMEDY SHOW”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 22, 2019) — Acting as his own attorney, former Shelby County sergeant Earley Story attended a hearing Friday in his continued quest to clear his name of a 20-year-old felony conviction which destroyed his career and earning potential, the effects of which he said he and his family feel to this day.
In January 1997 at the age of 44, Story was accused of selling $850-worth of marijuana to a Shelby County deputy and confidential informant on three different occasions that month. In an initial hearing in April that year, Judge Ann Pugh, who is now deceased, dismissed the charge for “lack of probable cause.” However, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) recharged Story several months later, and a prosecution went forward, eventually resulting in a December 1999 conviction on one count of selling the illegal substance.
While a number of states have recently legalized the use of not only medical marijuana, but also recreational use of the drug, Tennessee is not among them.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Story was assigned to the Shelby County jail, where he documented a wrongful death, substandard medical care, police brutality, overcrowding, and other violations of policy and law borne out by a federal lawsuit and a subsequent U.S. Justice Department investigation detailing a myriad of deficiencies.
Story relayed his observations at the time to the NAACP and Memphis FBI. After he was falsely accused in what he believes was a case of retaliation, he sought assistance from the National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF), which immediately initiated an investigation. Earlier this year, the NPDF again became involved, throwing its full support behind Story’s efforts to obtain a new look at his case in light of exculpatory documentation he was sent last fall by a death-row inmate, Tony Carruthers.
An NPDF press release dated March 9, 2019 requests that Story’s congressman, Steve Cohen, “support the NPDF’s request for an FBI investigation and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee asking for an independent review of Sgt. Story’s conviction and consideration for a pardon.”
Carruthers’s case is closely tied to Story’s given that the same confidential informant, Alfredo Shaw, testified against both men. The documentation Carruthers supplied to Story was generated by the SCSO and initially sent to Carruthers’s then-attorney, Paul Bottei. Along with a cover letter signed by SCSO Chief Policy and Statutory Compliance Officer Debora Fessenden was an activity log detailing Shaw’s drug purchases on behalf of the sheriff’s office, with Story’s date of conviction, January 22, 1997, not among them.
In October Story filed a Writ of Coram Nobis containing the new documentation with Division III of the Shelby County Criminal Court, where his original trial took place. However, the case was docketed in Division VIII, with Judge Chris Craft presiding.
The explanation The Post & Email received on that decision from a clerk at the Shelby County courthouse was that Craft had been the judge assigned to Story’s case most recently; however, Tennessee law states that any new evidence in a case shall be presented to the “court of conviction.”
In 2002, Story appealed the conviction, but despite the appellate court’s finding of “error” on the part of the trial court, he was unsuccessful.
More than a decade ago, Craft recused himself from Carruthers’s ongoing appeals but continued to preside over matters pertaining to Story, including a 2004 post-conviction petition and ten-day jail sentence for “interrupting” him in the courtroom.
In April, Story once again asked Craft to recuse himself, a request Craft refused.
Shaw later recanted his testimony to the Shelby County grand jury which indicted Carruthers. He additionally told a reporter that the SCSO paid him $2,000 to testify against Carruthers and that prosecutors promised him that as a result, his own case would be “dismissed.”
On Friday night, Fergus Nolan of the Memphis Truth Commission blog published his eyewitness account of Story’s latest hearing. According to Nolan, Craft declared, “Shaw is not the one who made the buy. The State is saying that Agent Butler made the buy, not Shaw. Carruthers’ evidence would not make a difference to your trial. We will hear the State’s motion to dismiss.”
Craft then granted the State’s motion, Nolan reported. Further, he wrote:
Today’s prosecutor was not testifying as a witness to the 1997 trial, so presumably she was referring to a transcript of the original trial. Mr Story has made numerous requests to the DA’s office, during the course of his appeals, for a copy of the court transcript, which has never been produced.
The prosecutor was referring to facts not in evidence, as the transcript was not produced during this hearing. There’s one or more Brady violations here.
In an interview with this writer on June 7, Story said that recent multiple attempts on his part to obtain his court file have resulted in the court’s contention that it “can’t find” it.
In February, Nolan produced a video interview of Story describing his saga from the beginning.
On Friday evening, Story told The Post & Email:
The judge didn’t like anything I said, and I couldn’t have been right in his eyesight anyway. None of my subpoenas were served. It was a home run, almost, for them. Someone from Channel 24 was there and interviewed me. Judge Craft dismissed the motion without giving me a chance to talk. He was very, very rude and cool. What can I say? If something is crooked, it’s crooked, and some things take time for God to work through it. He’ll do it in His time.
Tony Carruthers’s sister was there, but Tony wasn’t. I told the judge I could not go forward without Tony being there, because he’s the one who sent me the information. The judge argued with me. It was just a travesty of justice.
If you try to fight back, lawfully, the attorneys down here have seen so much corruption that they have turned corrupt, too. They laugh; it’s a joke to them. It’s nothing but a comedy show, and it’s so sad. He ignored everything I said, and my rights have been denied to the fullest.
He was talking in code. They lied about the sales and everything else. They were trying to provoke me into an argument, and there wasn’t anything I could do unless I wanted to be very persistent and risk going to jail.
I told the news person that if Tony Carruthers sent me evidence which helps him and me, how can Judge Craft recuse himself, because he was an assistant DA, from Tony Carruthers’s case and then reinsert himself about the evidence Tony Carruthers sent?
Regarding what might come next, Story said he is “going to sit back” for a while. “A pro se person is ‘fresh meat’ for this system,” he said. “They know you don’t know the ropes. All they want to do is use the law to bully you, not to seek justice. That’s what happened today.”
Further, he told us, “The travesty is that everybody talks about fighting crime, but crime starts high on the bench as well. Some of these guys don’t have the mentality to say, ‘I lost and I’m going to keep fighting legally.’ Some of them start turning hostile and go on a rampage as they let another voice dictate their thoughts. They turn hard, and that’s not good for the good policemen out there.”