Watching the pre-trial immunity hearing for William Marcus Wilson put into perspective the real crisis of Georgia’s legal system. Wilson, who is Black and was with a white woman during the incident that led to the death of Haley Hutcheson, has been sitting in pre-trial detention for over 400 days.
Initially denied bond, Wilson’s legal counsel filed a motion to reconsider bond in December 2020. And yet, the judge still has taken no action on that motion nearly a year later.
Let that sink in for a moment. In a system that claims people are innocent until proven guilty, a young man sits in jail without so much as a clear ruling on bond because the judge refuses to issue a decision.
Maintaining his innocence, Wilson insists that he was in fear for his life after a truck full of drunk, white teenagers tried to run his car off the road while screaming “N*gger/lover” at him and his girlfriend. The group also threw presumably empty beer bottles at Wilson’s car.
Not one received even a citation for driving under the influence. There were no repercussions for riding around with open beer bottles in the truck or drinking/purchasing alcohol while underaged – all of which they admitted to law enforcement that night.
But as the immunity hearing approached a close on the second day of testimony, I became horrified as basic Constitutional protections seemed to disappear right before our eyes. Protections like the right to legal counsel, due process, and judicial impartiality appeared in question. Wilson’s defense counsel discovered that Judge Michael Muldrew and District Attorney Daphne Totten had improper communication during the trial.
Instead of using the proper procedure to acknowledge the mishap, they attempted to cover it up without notifying the defense, giving the appearance of judicial impropriety. The district attorney submitted evidence to the judge never shared with Wilson’s defense. And when it was brought to the court’s attention by the defense team, Muldrew held Wilson’s lead defense counsel, Attorney Francys Johnson, in contempt of court.
Johnson, a noted civil rights advocate and attorney in the state, was detained for over six hours. His co-counsel was also threatened with contempt for refusing to allow the bailiffs to manhandle Johnson. If a judge can do this to an officer of the court, imagine what happens to defendants.
This is the current state of Georgia and this country’s legal system. Judges and prosecutors act without professional integrity because they do not expect serious accountability. This is also the result of a failed legal system that seeks to punish people who either are unable to pay bond or are simply the victims of a legal crisis.
Though we call on specific actors, such as Judge Michael Muldrew, to be held accountable when they infringe on the rights of others through a perverted sense of power and privilege, there are so many others that go unnamed and unchecked.
There are deteriorating elements of a legal system, particularly in Georgia’s rural and coastal South, that are threatening the very sustainability of any pursuit of justice within our entire state. Daphne Totten also illustrates this crisis. As district attorney, she failed in securing an indictment in the murder of Julian Lewis. The Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation both agreed that Lewis’ death was murder. Totten still refuses to release the video and audio of Lewis’ murder by Trooper Jake Thompson.
Former District Attorney Jackie Johnson is another example. While indicted for a minor offense related to her failure to prosecute the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery, she still has not been held responsible for dozens of cases in which she was grossly negligent in the execution of her duties as a prosecutor.
Georgia’s legal crisis extends even to its jails and prisons, as incarcerated people are continuously subjected to inhumane and often deadly conditions. State legislative hearings and the Department of Justice led statewide civil rights investigations into Georgia’s prisons – many of which are in South and rural Georgia communities.
These are just a few of the tens of thousands of cases in which justice is never served. In every aspect of this crisis, lives and communities are being destroyed. The failures of legal institutions persist through a lack of accountability, transparency and clear impartiality. It’s ultimately up to us to abolish these systems and reimagine a new way.
Young people like Wilson get dragged through the system with procedural delays and the broad realm of judicial and prosecutorial discretion standing in the way of just action. Reasonable fear of blackness is accepted, but Black people’s genuine fear of severe bodily injury or death is often disregarded.
The time is now for bold ideas and a relentless pursuit of justice that respects the rights of all people and ensures accountability for any and every actor that inflicts violent harm through the denial of human and constitutional rights. The time is now to bring Marc Wilson back home. Our charge is clear; this is our moment.
Rev. James Woodall is a current Public Policy Associate of the Southern Center for Human Rights and former State President of the Georgia NAACP.
Exonerated! Falsely Accused Black Folks Freed From Prison
1. Herbert Alford
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A Michigan man who spent nearly five years in custody is suing Hertz for failing to produce in a timely manner a receipt that would have proved his innocence long before he was convicted of a 2011 murder. https://t.co/kZaI5tdOv4— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 12, 2021
2. Walter Forbes
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“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me ... The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me," said Walter Forbes, freed and exonerated last week after 37 years with the help of @UofMInnocence. https://t.co/WfanIitchU— The Innocence Project (@innocence) December 14, 2020
3. Termaine Joseph Hicks
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An innocent Philadelphia man has been freed after spending 19 years in prison because two police officers wrongly claimed he’d raped a woman and then shot at them, when he’d in fact saved her from a different man .Attorneys for Termaine Joseph Hicks claim cops made up the story . pic.twitter.com/FJp5DQUMoQ— HJ (Hank) Ellison (@hjtherealj) December 18, 2020
4. Clifford Williams, Nathan Myers
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After a combined 86 years incarcerated for a crime they did not commit, Clifford Williams Jr. and his nephew, Nathan Myers, were exonerated and released last week! Mr. Myers was 18 when he was arrested and is now 61. Mr. Williams was 33 and is now 76. https://t.co/EH2qPCspEj— Equal Justice Initiative (@eji_org) April 5, 2019
5. Calvin BrightSource:WUSA9 5 of 15
6. Kevin Baker, Sean Washington
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Kevin Baker and Sean Washington received life terms in 1996 that were overturned on appeal in December https://t.co/MSWoxkwPzi— Courier-Post (@cpsj) February 4, 2020
7. Theophalis Wilson
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Theophalis Wilson was 17-years-old when he was falsely accused of a triple murder in Philadelphia and sentenced to life in prison. Now, 28 years later, he finally has his freedom. He spoke with @KeithJones https://t.co/mVDISp68hy pic.twitter.com/RQ2pEdZBfM— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) January 22, 2020
8. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart
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And they are out: Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart walk out of the Baltimore city courthouse after 36 yrs for a crime they didn’t do: pic.twitter.com/5UDGWMZmOB— Tom Jackman (@TomJackmanWP) November 25, 2019
9. Deandre Charles9 of 15
10. Exonerated Five - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise10 of 15
11. Anthony Ray Hinton
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Name: Anthony Ray Hinton, who was on Alabama’s Death Row for nearly 30 years for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2018, he wrote about his experience in the NYT bestseller, The Sun Does Shine.— City of Birmingham (@cityofbhamal) October 4, 2019
Occupation: Works in community education with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery pic.twitter.com/EwiaJueimb
12. Lamar Johnson12 of 15
13. Wilbert Jones
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Louisiana man freed from prison after serving 43 years for a crime he did not commit. Wilbert Jones was arrested in 1971 at the age of 19 and convicted of rape in 1974. A judge overturned his conviction weeks ago. He still had to pay $2,000 bail before becoming a free man today. pic.twitter.com/LYV4gbTPOf— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) November 15, 2017
14. Xavier DavisSource:Courtesy of Xavier Davis 14 of 15
15. Huwe Burton
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2,372nd Exon: Huwe Burton was convicted in 1991 for stabbing his mother to death when he was 16. He was exonerated on Jan 24th after an investigation showed that his confession was coerced and that his mother's real killer was likely a downstairs neighbor. https://t.co/TM3f76moQ5 pic.twitter.com/rsU1NlPr2y— Exoneration Registry (@exonerationlist) February 4, 2019
Black Driver’s Stand Your Ground Case Highlights Racial Disparities In Georgia’s Criminal Justice System was originally published on newsone.com