by Sharon Rondeau

(Oct. 3, 2022) — On Thursday, former Shelby County, TN Sheriff’s deputy Earley Story, who was falsely-accused in 1997 of selling marijuana to an undercover informant and convicted in 1999, asked the 30th Judicial District to file his complaint over the wrongful conviction in his ongoing quest to clear his name after a quarter-century.

In 2003 Story filed an unsuccessful direct appeal as part of his unceasing efforts to prove he could not have committed the crime but was instead retaliated against for reporting draconian conditions at the Shelby County jail which were later confirmed by a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

On August 4, then-District Attorney General Amy Weirich was defeated in her re-election bid by Democrat and former federal prosecutor Steve Mulroy, who during his campaign pledged to review the county’s bail policy and establish a “conviction review unit” for prior cases.

In an initial hearing in Story’s case, Judge Ann Pugh, now deceased, declared she found a “lack of probable cause” and dismissed the charges against him claiming he sold marijuana to the undercover agent on three occasions. However, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office rearrested Story and managed to have the matter successfully prosecuted on one count. The single felony conviction resulted in Story’s loss of gainful employment for the remainder of his working-age years, a temporary loss of voting rights and the stigma of being labeled a criminal for the past 25 years.

In 2018, Story provided new evidence to Division III of the Shelby County Criminal Court, where the case was originally heard, and requested a rehearing of his case, after which Judge Chris Craft, who presided over Story’s 2003 appeal, refused to recuse himself at Story’s request.

On April 7, 2019, The Post & Email reported:

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.

Serving since 1994, Craft was re-elected in August to another eight-year term.

Story previously told The Post & Email that he has never been able to obtain a full copy of his court records, with Craft advising him that he personally retains the “jacket” in his chambers because at one point Story allegedly “threw a tantrum” in the court clerk’s office.

Story’s new evidence revealed that the confidential informant to whom Story allegedly sold the marijuana reported no activity to the sheriff’s office in his log that day, January 22, 1997. “This crucial evidence was withheld from me for two decades and it was always in the possession of the Shelby County District Attorney general’s office!” Story told The Post & Email in January 2019.

Shortly after making that discovery, Story received support from the National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF) founded by Joseph Occhipinti, a former federal customs patrol officer who reports having been “framed” as a result of his “infiltrating a major Dominican drug cartel that led to one of the largest cocaine seizures in U.S. history.”

Occhipinti subsequently issued a press release and approached the office of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9), Story’s congressman, to request assistance from the FBI in investigating the circumstances of Story’s arrest and conviction. On Monday Story told The Post & Email he has never heard from Cohen’s office.

In his contact with the 30th Judicial District last week, Story sought to speak with someone who was not already familiar with his longstanding case, he told Theresa Hargrove, a non-attorney who took the call.

On January 31, 1997, an affidavit leading to Story’s arrest was signed by “Det. C. Harrison” alleging Story violated TCA 39-17-417 on three occasions.

Affidavit of Complaint dated January 31, 1997 against then-Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Earley Story

Harrison was also the bailiff during his 2003 pro se appeal, Story told The Post & Email in a February 2019 email response to a question.

The prosecutor to whom Hargrove referred Story, Reginald Henderson, was already familiar with the case, Story pointed out. “He’s fully aware of what’s going on,” he said, questioning whether or not it presents a conflict of interest.

“That’s where we start,” Hargrove replied.

The full call lasted 35 minutes, with Hargrove stating at its conclusion that she would document Story’s communication and “pass on your message to all of the parties that we discussed, and I hope that you’ll get some closure and get the people to help you as you request.”

“God willing,” Story replied before hanging up.

Update, October 4, 2022: An interview with Story and NoogaRadio host David Tulis can be accessed here.

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