State Bar ruling irks Gell

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

RALEIGH – In the aftermath of a State Bar hearing here late last week, Alan Gell is convinced there are two sets of legal standards in the state of North Carolina.

Gell – a former Death Row inmate who, in a second trial held earlier this year in Windsor, was found not guilty in the 1995 murder of Allen Ray Jenkins of Aulander – attended last week’s legal proceedings in Raleigh. There, the State Bar wanted to find out why Debra Graves and David Hoke, former assistant attorney generals who handled the state’s prosecution of Gell during the first trial in 1998, withheld evidence critical to Gell’s defense.

At the hearing, Graves and Hoke admitted they made some mistakes at the first trial. They said they did not intentionally or purposely withhold evidence from Gell’s defense team, despite the fact that the judge at the original trial ordered the duo to hand over all witness statements, including ones from those who maintained they saw Jenkins alive after the alleged April 3, 1995 murder date.

Gell, who stood by his innocence from day one, was either out-of-state or incarcerated in the Bertie/Martin Regional Jail for vehicle theft from April 4-20. Jenkins’ badly decomposed body, with two gunshot wounds to the chest area, was discovered April 14, 1995 in his Aulander home.

For their mistakes, Graves and Hoke received reprimands, far short of the disbarment that Gell said he would have liked to see as an end result.

&uot;From what I gathered in my experience listening to last week’s proceedings, there’s different rules for prosecutors and for those in society,&uot; said Gell. &uot;As citizens, if we run a stop sign and kill or hurt somebody as a result, then we pay the price. We can’t go into a court of law and simply tell the judge that we’re sorry, we didn’t see the stop sign. That’s not okay in society, but apparently it’s okay inside the State Bar.&uot;

Gell said he was extremely disappointed in the level of punishment handed down in last week’s hearing.

&uot;They got a verbal reprimand for almost killing an innocent man,&uot; noted Gell. &uot;That’s totally unacceptable. This can’t keep happening, but as long as this type of punishment continues to be handed out in cases such as this, then these type of people will continue to get away with what I feel is a total lack of professionalism on their part.&uot;

At last week’s hearing, Graves and Hoke did admit they withheld a secretly taped telephone conversation between Crystal Morris and Shanna Hall, co-conspirators in the Jenkins murder who accepted a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against Gell, and Gary Randolph Scott Jr. In that conversation, taped on May 17, 1995, Morris is heard to say that she had to make-up a story to tell the police.

In the new trial, Bertie County jurors said listening to that tape played a key role in their not guilty verdict.

&uot;As you can see, the testimony from those witnesses who saw Mr. Jenkins alive after they claimed I killed him plus the (taped) conversation went a long ways for me in the second trial,&uot; said Gell. &uot;What upsets me so much was that critical information was kept hidden during the first trial and I was put on Death Row because of that fact.&uot;

He continued, &uot;They (Graves and Hoke) said they didn’t read the entire file and instead relied on (SBI Investigator) Dwight Ransome for information. At the State Bar hearing, they were made out to be such professionals. If they are, then why didn’t they read their own files?&uot;

Gell noted he felt the two former prosecutors received favorable treatment from the State Bar because the three-member panel appeared convinced that Graves and Hoke had shown remorse towards Gell because of their mistakes.

&uot;That’s news to me,&uot; stressed Gell. &uot;They have not shown me any remorse. The only time I’ve heard them say ‘I’m sorry’ was at the State Bar hearing and that was to say they were sorry because they got caught withholding evidence.&uot;

While he admitted this current ruling was, &uot;a hard pill to swallow,&uot; Gell said he would continue to travel around the state in an effort to shed light on the way North Carolina doles out death sentences. He and others have expressed a desire to see the state call for a two-year moratorium on executions while an in-depth study is conducted on the sentencing structure.

Currently, Gell is a community organizer with People of Faith Against the Death Penalty’s NC Moratorium Now Campaign. He is also working with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, located in Durham. He has an engagement this weekend in Charlottesville, Va. where he will speak out against the death penalty.

&uot;I will go on and try to make the system better,&uot; he said.

Gell is also enrolled at Martin Community College where he is studying to become a Social Worker. He wants to obtain his undergraduate degree and transfer to a four-year school.