Prosecutorial misconduct probe is needed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

What the prosecutors did in the first Alan Gell trial is criminal. An investigation into this matter should be launched and heads should roll if it is found that evidence was deliberately withheld from Mr. Gell’s first trial.

News Editor Cal Bryant covered the questions pretty succinctly in his column Tuesday, but this is so outrageous it needs to be rehashed. Bryant covered the trial and has spoken with most of the people involved. Here are the questions he (and I) would like answered:

&uot;Did the state waste their time and effort, not to mention taxpayer’s dollars, in their pursuit of Gell as the triggerman, even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime? Did criminal investigators stop short of completing their inquiries into the murder after assuming Gell’s guilt prior to his arrest? What happens to Crystal Morris and Shanna Hall after they are released from prison? According to the new jury, it’s apparent they didn’t believe the testimony of these two girls. Doesn’t that break their plea bargain to ‘provide truthful testimony?’ Can they be subject to a trial? Are they covering for someone else? Who did kill Allen Ray Jenkins?&uot;

Indeed, who killed Allen Ray Jenkins is the question we and his family will apparently not get answered. Some still believe Gell committed the murder, but how could he when so many people saw Mr. Jenkins alive well after Gell was incarcerated for an unrelated crime?

There is a great deal that stinks about this case, but we’ll never find the source of the malodor because Attorney General Roy Cooper has closed the case.

Case closed? Based on evidence presented at the new trial, Gell didn’t commit this murder. All Cooper and the state has is the word of two girls who had a great deal to gain by saying someone else committed the murder.

They’re going to be out of jail this time next year unless, as Bryant suggests, their deal with prosecutors be torn up based upon the new innocent verdict – a verdict which was correct and proper and, frankly, unavoidable based on the testimony of forensics experts and the dozen or so folks who saw Jenkins alive days after he was supposed to have been murdered.

How can Cooper possibly justify not launching an investigation?

Not only should an investigation be launched into who killed Allen Ray Jenkins – an investigation that would start with the state tearing up the plea agreements with the state’s two witnesses – but one should also be launched into the conduct of the prosecutors on the case.

But, as Bryant points out, there are politics involved.

The governor should step in and order the attorney general to reopen the case. Ooops, that’s not likely to happen, is it? Guess who was attorney general when Gell was convicted in kangaroo court (no offense intended to the judge, jury, defense attorneys, and Bertie County court personnel involved in the first trial)?

That right, former Attorney General Mike Easley, currently the governor of our great state, was in charge of the prosecution team assigned to convict Gell. That’s right, the prosecutors were sent from Raleigh to convict Gell, not to seek justice for the brutal murder of Mr. Jenkins.

You reckon he’ll admit that his people withheld critical evidence – very nearly causing an innocent man to be executed? If he puts ethics, morals, integrity and justice ahead of political and personal ambition he will call for a thorough investigation into prosecutorial misconduct and the murder of Allen Ray Jenkins.

If that means some now prominent Democrats – including the governor and attorney general – get embroiled in an embarrassment, so be it.

Justice is supposed to be blind. A jury has now weighed ALL the evidence and found the state’s case against Mr. Gell untenable. He is innocent. Will justice in this case be pursued?

Sending an innocent man to death row by withholding evidence is not just lamentable, it is unconscionable. It is criminal. Yet, nothing is being done to seek justice. The people of North Carolina have spent thousands of dollars to convict a man the prosecutors knew could not be found guilty if all the evidence were presented. The people of North Carolina spent hundreds of thousands of dollars holding a man in a death row jail cell for four years who should not have been there.

And then the people of North Carolina spent several more thousand dollars to try a man for a murder no sane jury would convict him of given the evidence.

This is a far more important issue than the harm done to Alan Gell. It is even far more critical than finding the person or persons who murdered Allen Ray Jenkins.

What has been done here strikes at the very heart of our judicial system. When prosecutors utilize the power of the state to seek a conviction rather than to seek justice, we are all put at risk. We rely on our law enforcement and judicial officials to put aside what they believe so that justice can prevail. When the system breaks down – as all systems sometimes do – it must be fixed.

Cooper’s refusal to pursue this matter further means he’s leaving the system broken and in shambles.

This is an outrage not only to ordinary citizens, but most especially to the fine men and women serving this state in the judicial system. Integrity, honesty and ethics define nearly everyone associated with law enforcement and the court systems. In the Roanoke-Chowan area – including Bertie County – some of our best and brightest serve as judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, deputies, bailiffs, court reporters, etc.

Every one of these fine people is now tarnished by Cooper’s refusal to seek justice because of political considerations. The Bertie County Courthouse was used as a kangaroo court nearly a decade ago and, even though Gell got a second chance, it is still stained by the reprehensible actions of a team sent here from Raleigh.

Until the truth about all aspects of this case is revealed in the full light of day, that stain remains.