Right vs. Wrong

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For five agonizing years, Dwight Ransome couldn’t say what was in his heart and on his mind.

For five years, Ransome played the role of a good solider, protecting the troops at all costs.

Dwight Ransome recently retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement, spending nearly 28 of those years with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

But a retirement and a four million dollar lawsuit later, Ransome feels the time is right to take the gloves off and stop dancing around the ring controlled by his former colleagues.

In an exclusive interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Ransome speaks his mind about a number of things, including the much-publicized Alan Gell case as well as his thoughts on how his superiors at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations (SBI), and even someone he considered a close friend, circled the proverbial wagons and left him, as he put it, “dangling from a tree branch and they had a chainsaw in their hands.”

Ransome recently ended a career that spanned three full decades and briefly touched another when the Ahoskie native retired as a Level 4 (Assistant Special Agent in Charge) with the SBI.

While Ransome was a highly regarded SBI Agent and was instrumental in solving a number of crimes, his name is forever linked with Alan Gell.

In 1995, Allen Ray Jenkins was found brutally murdered in his Aulander home. With Ransome as the lead SBI investigator, Gell, of Lewiston was arrested, charged and found guilty in that case. His sentence, handed down in 1998, was death by lethal injection.

As it is in all capital murder cases, a review of the case was conducted. A new trial was ordered, one in which Gell was acquitted in 2004. During that new trial, Ransome was accused of not turning over all his files from the original trial, something he still denies doing.

“The Gell case is bigger than just him being convicted the first time, being on death row, getting a second trial and then being found not guilty the second time to what’s going on right now,” Ransome said. “Right now, attorneys have decided they want to get rid of the death penalty in North Carolina. That’s what they’re working towards. Tell me why an attorney out of New York is interested in cases in North Carolina. This is bigger than Dwight Ransome and I recognize that.”

Ransome stated that his life changed in the wake of the Gell case.

“There’s some issues, a whole bunch of issues, about the Gell case that are not on the table…things that happened after the Gell case,” he noted. “Example…my transfer to Raleigh happened as a result of the Gell case. If you read the letter of transfer from the (SBI) director and look at the letter that she does not know about, the two clash.”

Ransome produced a letter from his personnel file, one containing 121 letters or notes of commendation from local, state and federal officials. The first one is dated 1984, the last one came in August of 2009. Ransome said of all those letters, the only negative one came from Robin Pendergraft, the former SBI Director who was just recently reassigned to a position of Deputy Attorney General for the state’s Medicaid fraud program.

“She questioned my trial prep and case investigation,” Ransome said in regards to the Gell case.

Ransome said that statement was in direct contrast to the one he received on March 13, 1998. That letter, penned by then SBI Director Jim Coman, praised Ransome for his diligent and thorough investigation of the Gell case.

“Based on the (Pendergraft) letter, if I’m transferred because of how the investigation was worked and the trial prep, then someone has their lines crossed,” Ransome stressed. “How can you be that far apart. I tell you why, the wagons got circled and Dwight Ransome was left on the outside.”

Ransome noted that the lone complaint filed during his near 28-year career with the SBI occurred in 2007. He said it had nothing to do with the Gell case.

“The complaint was checked into and was unfounded; unsubstantiated,” he said.

‘Friendly fire’

During his long career in law enforcement, which included a stint with the Ahoskie Police Department, Ransome said he had worked closely with David Beard, a local lawyer that served as District 6B Attorney.

Ransome added that he considered Beard as a friend, at least until the fallout hit from the Gell case.

“This is not word for word as I recollect, but David, in his deposition, is saying that he never discussed the Gell case in detail with me,” Ransome alleged. “He said he knew nothing about the 17 eyewitnesses and had he known he probably would not have charged Gell; had Gell indicted.

When your back is against the wall, you’ll tend to say anything.”

Ransome was making reference to 17 witnesses in the Gell case who claimed they saw Allen Ray Jenkins alive after April 3, 1995…the date the state Medical Examiner said the murder occurred.

“My attorney goes to Valerie’s (Asbell, the current District 6B Attorney) office where the DA’s files are kept on cases, including the Gell case,” Ransome said. “He looks in that box and finds a complete SBI file with Beard’s handwriting throughout the file, including his handwriting on one of the 17 statements he claims he’s never seen.”

Ransome also referenced his official SBI Activity Summary Report from Friday, Dec. 29, 1995, a copy of which he has kept over the years in his personnel file. That report, viewed by this newspaper, documents Ransome’s activity on that day, showing a trip from his home in Windsor to Murfreesboro (where Beard’s office was at that time). Listed under the remarks column is …“meet with DA and (Jenkins) family to discuss Gell case.” The report said the meeting lasted six hours.

“But yet in his deposition, Beard said he never read the statements and we never met on this case…this activity report says different; the notes made by Beard in the case file says different,” Ransome noted.

Ransome produced a copy of the transcript from Gell’s first trial (1998) …going to the part where the defense claimed they never had the 17 statements, saying they would have had a better chance if they had access to those statements. The transcript showed otherwise…citing the judge’s opinion of the exculpatory features (evidence that favors a defendant) of those statements, of which nine of the 17 are shared with Gell’s defense team.

“They (the defense lawyers) were given nine statements before the trial and two days later were given another statements (#10) found by (state prosecutor) Debra Graves,” Ransome said. “So, this is a big conspiracy by Dwight Ransome? How do you conspire by yourself? They have ten of the seventeen statements before the trial opens and from their own witness list had three others.”

He continued, “I was asked if there were any more; I said I didn’t remember; I should have told them to go read the file and make sure they were not any more. You can’t transfer the duty and responsibility to me to do the discovery.”

Ransome said the seven witness statements not given to the defense were interviews conducted by another member of the criminal investigation team.

“That’s not an excuse,” Ransome quipped. “Was it my responsibility, yes, but those seven were in the file that David (Beard) had, that the prosecutors had. The seventeen were in the file; the tape transcript (phone conversation between Gary Scott and Crystal Morris) was in the file.

“You can fall back on I never got it, I never read it, I depended on Dwight, he must have lost it, he was conspiring against Alan Gell; relying on me to have them; you can always offer an excuse,” Ransome added. “I should have known about those seven interviews. But does that make me guilty of not giving them the file and am I guilty if they don’t read it; am I guilty because they didn’t do the discovery?”

The second trial was based on the seven eyewitness accounts that never found their way to Gell’s 1998 defense team.

“Why didn’t they get them; that’s a discovery issue, not a Dwight Ransome issue,” Ransome stressed. “They were in the file all along. The seventeen are still in the file; every single interview is in that box. The same case file that the state had going into the case. They kept talking about me keeping a polygraph exam report from the DA. They kept talking about me keeping a tape recording transcript from the DA.

“(Trial #1 state prosecutor) David Hoke had the (tape) transcript and he didn’t have polygraph exam report,” Ransome continued. “Why, no one had a copy of that report, but all were told they had a complete copy of the file. It was in the file, but it was filed under the lab reports. I never got a copy of it. Was that my responsibility as the case agent, yes. But shouldn’t there be shared responsibilities with a polygraph examiner; a crime scene technician…I think so. If you want to hold me accountable for the entire investigation, I don’t mind, but don’t hold me accountable for the discovery, the prosecution of the case, the defense side of the case, the jury, the judge and the second trial.”

Ransome said Gell’s defense team claimed they never got any of the statements…“But you can see from the trial notes they did receive ten and the other seven were in the case file,” he stated. “Out of the ten they had, they used only two. So you know they had them. The lawsuit claims we withheld the statements.”

He added, “There were seventeen people who claimed they saw Mr. Jenkins alive and well after April 3. If you’re given ten of those statements and choose to only use two (in defense of Gell), then why are they crying foul? Look at it another way, if you have two attorneys representing Mr. Gell talk about discovery and then one each for Hall and Morris (two co-defendants in the case that accepted a plea arrangement) and they never make an argument about discovery, what does that tell you? This is bigger than Dwight Ransome.”

Then there’s the issue of a woman that Ransome only referred to as “Nancy.”

“At least four of the seventeen witnesses say that the last time they saw Mr. Jenkins was Saturday, April 8, 1993 driving his white convertible with a female named Nancy in the front seat,” Ransome recalled. “We interviewed Nancy….she left Aulander for Charlotte on April 1, 1993; she came back to Aulander in September of that same year. Mr. Jenkins took her to Charlotte and left her there. How did those four witnesses see Nancy on April 8 when she left April 1; we have records to collaborate that. We can say things that are wrong, not intentionally, but they’re still wrong.”

More questions than answers

Ransome stated that he felt “everyone was on the same sheet of music” during the first trial. However, the second trial was played to a different tune. What bothers Ransome the most is the fact that the state Medical Examiner drastically changed her opinion of the date of death from the first trial to the second.

“What scientific evidence, evidence from crime scene, changed from the time she testified in 1998 to the 2004 trial,” Ransome quizzed. “All this evidence was scientific. The whole argument there was if the ME (Medical Examiner) had those seventeen statements, her opinion would be different. Who better than two eyewitnesses to the crime would know when that man was killed.”

Ransome said the Medical Examiner changed her scientific opinion based on the influence of a specialist on bodies that are found outside.

“My question would be what is his expertise on bodies that are inside; Allen Ray Jenkins was found murdered inside his home, not outside,” Ransome said. “Again I have to ask, what evidence changed to make the ME change her opinion on the time/date of death? Better yet, ask Mr. Gell where he was between the hours of  9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday, April 3, 1993 after his sister dropped him off at the Red Apple in Aulander.”

Ransome also questioned the capital murder case experience of the state’s prosecutors in the first trial. He claimed neither had previously tried a capital murder case.

“If they didn’t have that level of experience, whose idea was it to send them…I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.

He also questioned the administrative structure of the SBI.

“Why is the SBI run by an attorney,” Ransome pondered. “Why is the Director an attorney? Where is the law enforcement experience; that’s what we do. Why does the Director of a law enforcement, crime investigation agency have to be an attorney? It’s the only law enforcement agency in the state under the direction of an attorney.”

But of all the drama surrounding the Gell case, Ransome said the part that bothered him the most was how can a newspaper print a statement that is not true and not be held accountable.

“Where do the reporters get their information to print,” Ransome asked, referencing a series of articles published by the News & Observer in Raleigh that questioned his integrity as a law enforcement officer. “Here, with you, the information is coming straight from me and if you have questions you call me. The N&O gets their info from the AG (Attorney General) office; you would think they could get it right. Better yet, call me and I’ll set the record straight. It’s like there’s two sets of standards and the one they want me to follow is different from the other.”

Ransome continued, “They’ve chipped away at this, at me, at my character, my reputation, for five years. Of all the cases I’ve been involved in over the years, why did I do wrong in this one case, why the Alan Gell case?”

In the wake of the Gell case, and the ensuing lawsuits against the SBI and Ransome, the SBI commissioned a retired FBI Agent to go over Ransome’s case files.

“Before I answer to his opinions of my work, I would ask this….how is he qualified to perform such an audit, and what is his relationship with the AG office,” Ransome asked.

“Why is there no mention of the agent that conducted the polygraph and wrote the report (in the Gell case),” he continued. “Why during three different requests made to (SBI) records that the polygraph report is not in any of those files. Why not….because it makes the SBI look bad.”

Ransome wore his emotions on his sleeve when the talk turned to the pride, work ethic and professional standards he had over his long career in law enforcement.

“It’s not my intent to talk about a place that I worked at for 27 and one-half years, but have you seen anything printed, any comment that supports me in any way by the SBI? You won’t see one on my behalf from anyone within the SBI,” he noted. “When you meet with an Assistant Director (SBI) about these issues, and this person is in charge of professional standards and they tell you they won’t lie to the (SBI) Director, but they’ll lie for the Director; what does that tell you about their professional standards.”

Ransome also had direct questions for his former boss, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.

“One, ask Mr. Cooper what is the promotional policy within the SBI; two, when is the AG office and the SBI going to reflect the population of North Carolina; and, number three, tell me what the chances of being promoted were from 2001-2004 for minorities in the SBI. Tell me why the chances for a minority being promoted were ten-to-one.

“This is bigger than Alan Gell; this is bigger than Dwight Ransome…this is about right and wrong,” Ransome closed.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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