Gell files lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 10, 2005

RALEIGH – In Alan Gell’s eyes, nine years of incarceration for a crime later judged as impossible for him to commit is grounds for a lawsuit.

Last week, Gell – who spent nearly six years on death row for the murder of Allen Ray Jenkins of Aulander before being found not guilty in a new trial held last year – filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state and local officials who handled the state’s case in the first trial (1998).

Claiming a violation of his civil rights, Gell sued Dwight Ransome, an SBI agent who was the state’s lead investigator in the case and former Aulander Police Chief Gordon Godwin. Additionally, the suit named David Hoke and Debra Graves, formally of the NC State Attorney General’s office who prosecuted the case, as well as their former supervisor, William Ferrell.

&uot;To date, the parties responsible for the inappropriate actions that led to my wrongful conviction have yet to be held accountable for their actions,&uot; Gell said.

Gell went on to allege a conspiracy among the prosecution team and the criminal investigators. He said Godwin and Ransome fabricated evidence while Hoke and Graves withheld key evidence.

&uot;There were contradictory remarks made that tend to show a conspiracy,&uot; Gell alleged. &uot;This was not the work of one single person, but rather individuals performing tasks outside their normal realm of duties and then combining those inappropriate actions against me at my first trial.&uot;

Gell said he was fully aware he faced what he termed as &uot;an uphill battle&uot; in this lawsuit.

&uot;I’ve faced uphill battles for the last 10 years,&uot; he noted. &uot;All I want is to hear the prosecutors and investigators say they were wrong and accept a proper punishment for their actions.&uot;

In the paperwork filed on Gell’s behalf by attorneys David Rudolf and Barry Scheck, the lawsuit claimed the initial trial was &uot;unfair&uot; and led to a &uot;wrongful conviction&uot; based upon the prosecution team ignoring a judge’s order that called for all witness statements to be handed over to Gell’s original defenders.

In December of 2002, Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant granted an &uot;appropriate relief&uot; motion and ordered a new trial. His ruling dealt with Hoke and Graves withholding the names of nine witnesses who said they saw Jenkins alive after April 3, 1995 (the date of death according to a medical examiner’s report). There were a total of 17 witnesses, but Gell’s defense team was supplied with only eight names.

At the new trial, held in Bertie Superior Court in February of last year, Gell’s defense team tore away at the April 3rd murder scenario, claiming their client could not have murdered Jenkins because he was in Maryland at the time. Upon his return to Bertie County on April 5, Gell was arrested for vehicle theft and spent the next 15 days in jail.

Jenkins’ badly decomposed body was discovered in his residence on April 14, 1995.

In addition, a taped conversation between Ransome and two co-defendants – Crystal Morris and Shanna Hall – was not released to the original defense team. Upon its release at the second trial, Morris and Hall – both now free after serving time on second-degree murder charges in exchange for their testimony against Gell – were heard on the tape saying they had to &uot;make-up a story&uot; to tell the police.

The state’s case at both trials was centered on the testimony of Morris and Hall, both 15 at the time of the murder. None of the 33 fingerprints found at the murder scene belonged to Gell. In addition, there were no hairs or fibers linking him to either the murder weapon or the crime scene.

Scientific evidence introduced at the new trial cast doubt over the state’s claim that Jenkins was murdered on April 3, 1995. That evidence led the medical examiner to change her April 3 assumption to April 8-10.

Two witnesses, ones that Gell’s original defense team was not aware of, testified they saw Jenkins in Ahoskie on April 10, 1995. One of those witnesses, Benjamin Parker, went as far as to accuse Ransome and Godwin of &uot;playing games&uot; with him when they re-interviewed him on July 28, 1995 concerning his statement.