Dr. Artemesia Stanberry has been relentless in fighting to free her cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who appears to be in prison for crimes he did not commit.
I first heard about the case from Dr. Wilmer Leon, as we were headed to Missouri last year to rally on behalf of Heather Ellis, a college student threatened with 15 years in prison for cutting in line at Wal-Mart.
When I first heard about Rodney's case, I couldn't believe my ears. From what Dr. Leon was telling me, it sounded like a case of lazy police work, where officers didn't want to go through the efforts of going all the way to New York to find the true killers. When it appeared that two of Rodney's friends had robbed and killed someone he knew, he immediately rushed to the aid of the police, providing pictures, testimony and all relevant evidence to help them catch the killer. He even called detectives in New York City to tell them to arrest the men as soon as they got off their bus. Rodney had no criminal record, and was known as a model employee on his job.
Apparently, Rodney K. Stanberry ended up in prison because he was the most-convenient person to incarcerate. When police saw how helpful he was to their case, they shined their light of suspicion on Rodney, eventually charging him with murder. Even though Rodney passed a polygraph test and has witnesses (including his former boss) testifying that he was at work at the time of the murder, police have refused to dig deeper. I am personally baffled by the illogical commitment to preserving protocol, even at the expense of a man's life.
At the very least, Rodney's case needs to be re-opened so that all evidence and relevant confessions can be heard. It seems that the community has galvanized to support Rodney's innocence, and if there is an innocent man in prison, all of us should do what we can to ensure that he is allowed to be free. Aol. Black Voices caught up with Artemesia Stanberry, who gave us the details on Rodney's case.
What is your name, and what is your cause?
Artemesia Stanberry, Ph.D. I am the lead advocate for and cousin of Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison after 13 full years for crimes he did not commit.
Please give us the background on the case of Rodney K. Stanberry
Rodney was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995, and sentenced in 1997 to three 20 year sentences – attempted murder, first degree burglary, and robbery – to be served concurrently. In 1992, Rodney invited his childhood friends from New York to Mobile to experience Mardi Gras. While his friends were in town, Rodney took them to the victim's house where the victim and her husband stored a deer that had been shot during hunting season. When his friends from New York expressed interest in purchasing guns they'd seen at the house, Rodney told the victim and her husband to not sell his friends the guns because he'd noticed a change in them.
Going against Rodney's wishes, some guns were sold to the individuals from New York. During a target practice trip with Rodney and his friends, the victim and her husband brought along weapons that Rodney asked them not to bring because he did not trust his friends. On March 2nd, Mardi Gras Day, while Rodney was at work, one of his friends from New York solicited the service of Terrell Moore – the person who confessed to robbing the home of the victim. It was during this robbery that the victim was shot.
Moore explained what happened and confessed that Wish Melendez shot the victim in the head and then threatened to shoot him as well. As Moore's car was leaving the victim's home, a neighbor working on his car saw and identified Moore and also testified that Rodney was not at the scene, nor was Rodney's truck. He identified Moore and Moore's car. Because Rodney never missed a day of work while his friends remained in town, another individual spent time with Rodney's friends. This is how Moore ended up being at the house when the victim was shot. Two people were at the house: the actual shooter and Moore, the person who confessed. The Assistant District Attorney (ADA) claims that it was Rodney and the actual shooter at the house, choosing not to believe the sworn confession, and choosing to ignore evidence that Rodney was at his place of employment when the crimes took place. More information about this can be found at this link.
Rodney owned the same guns he is accused of stealing. Eyewitnesses, actual work documents, and his supervisor place him at work when these crimes occurred. Rodney, immediately upon learning about the shootings and robbery when he left work, did all that he could to assist the police. The police thought he was being too helpful. In actuality, he was trying to help them immediately locate the person who shot the victim.
As the victim was recovering from a coma, she was asked by the Prichard detective "Which of these individuals could have been at your house?". When asked this question, the detective was using a photo – provided by Rodney within 24 hours of the crimes – that contained the two people who fled back to New York, including the shooter. In the midst of the detective's questions, the victim squeezed someone's hand indicating that Rodney could have been at her house. He was often at her house as they were friends. This is how she came to identify Rodney, his girlfriend and his bronco- even though the ADA had solid evidence and witnesses with evidence to the contrary.
It was Rodney who called the detectives in New York, told them what happened, and asked them to stop those guys when they got off the bus. It was Rodney who provided photos of his friends within 24 hours of when the crimes were committed, and it was Rodney who secretly recorded someone with knowledge of the crimes to further get the truth. He turned this over to the police. In addition, the confession by one of the individuals at the house when the crimes were committed exonerates Rodney.
The then ADA said he'll never believe the confession and will never believe that Moore was at the victim's house, even though Moore described the house as only a person in the house could describe it. If the then ADA had been able to question the suspects rather than go off of a theory which led him to believe there were no people from New York, that these were all cover stories, Rodney would have continued to be a hardworking, law-abiding, middle-class, taxpaying citizen. Instead, Rodney has been spending the last 14 years of his life going through the wretched ordeal of being an innocent man incarcerated and the last 19 years having to fight for and prove his innocence. Rodney continued to work at the same job he'd had for years until the day before he had to enter the prison system. That says a lot about this man who also passed a polygraph test. Rodney is very empathetic about what happened to the victim, as we all should be. It was a brutal crime. But let's not tolerate convicting an innocent man as the victim never receives true justice when the wrong person is convicted.
For additional information about Rodney's case, please refer to this article written by a reporter in Mobile.
Given that there is so much evidence implying that he never committed this crime, what have been the legal barriers to getting him out of prison?
Rodney has had several appeals. All were denied. Rodney has also had two parole hearings. His first parole hearing was in 2004, and his second was in 2009. He was denied parole both times. At both parole hearings, Rodney had everything that was asked of him. At his first parole hearing, he had counseling, a job plan (his former job wrote a letter stating that he would have a job upon his release), a supportive family, friends, and a support network.
At his second parole hearing, Rodney's former supervisor spoke on his behalf calling him a model employee. Also, Rodney's coworkers signed a petition requesting that he be granted parole! There were even support letters from business owners – employment lined up, his parents, sister, close friends and family members, a son that he tries his best to raise from behind bars, character references, and a letter from the original detective stating that Rodney should be granted parole. None of this mattered to the parole board. The victim's family came to both parole hearings and said that because Rodney won't admit he is guilty he doesn't have remorse. The dilemma of the convicted innocent is that he or she can't admit guilt for something that he or she did not do.
What efforts are underway to help Rodney, and what can people do to support you?
Currently, we are appealing to the public for help. We would like for the public to contact the Mobile District Attorney's Office and the Alabama Governor's office to ask that they allow for an impartial, outside investigator to investigate Rodney's case and to allow Rodney to be released during this investigation. His father is 77 years old, and his mother is now in a nursing home. He needs to be with them. There is a new District Attorney – Ashley Rich – in Mobile, Alabama effective January 2011. It is hoped that while she has worked in the DA's office for 14 years prior to becoming DA, that she will be open to looking at this case with fresh eyes and more importantly, assign it to an impartial investigator. The new District Attorney has assigned an investigator to look into Rodney's case, but the concern remains that the mentality of maintaining a conviction at all costs will prevail, regardless of the evidence uncovered by the investigator. Constant pressure must be placed on the Mobile DA's office, the governor's office, and the NAACP to allow for a third party, non-partial investigator to review Rodney's case.
Mobile DA Ashley Rich, Attorney General Luther Strange, and Governor Robert Bentley are newly sworn in to serve as of January 2011. Please share information about Rodney's case with your friends, and encourage them to write these individuals requesting relief/freedom for Rodney. If you are a member of a church in Alabama, please share information about Rodney's case with your congregation and consider asking members of your congregation to write letters to Governor Bentley. He seems to be a true man of faith, and thus his faith – not politics or fear of rocking the boat – may drive him to do what is right. The contact information for each of the individuals mentioned above can be found here.
Recently, an attorney was hired by Rodney, but the continued costs to maintain an attorney has already exhausted the budget. If there is an attorney with insight into these cases and or particular advice on what to do when appeals have been exhausted, that information would be welcomed as well and can be sent to email@example.com.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our AOL Black Voices audience?
Rodney had neither motive nor incentive to commit these crimes. Of the people directly and indirectly involved in the crimes, Rodney was the only one without a criminal record and the only one who was tried and convicted. Even the person who confessed to being involved in the crimes has a criminal record. Yet, he confessed and cleared Rodney whom he did not really know. Rodney worked at the same job without taking a vacation. He took pride in his job. He kept that job during the trial and up to the time he had to report to prison. Further, he had a savings account that would have more than covered the cost of the stolen weapons. He owned the same type of weapons he is convicted of stealing, and he comes from a solid, middle-class, two-family household. This should have been an open and shut case, but actions and inactions by the police department and District Attorney's office convinced the victim's family that Rodney was the guilty party.
There is a website devoted to Rodney's case where more information, including transcripts, can be found. It is www.freerodneystanberry.com. If you are on Facebook, please join the Free Rodney Stanberry Facebook page.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. To follow Dr. Boyce on Facebook, please click here.