By Ivan G. Goldman
The innocence of ex-fighter Anthony Fletcher cries out to us in a muffled human voice from inside the confines of his tiny cell on Pennsylvania’s death row. Fletcher isn’t imprisoned for any crime but because correcting the injustice of locking him up twenty years ago is a lot of trouble and keeping him buried alive is no trouble at all.
This is preventive detention in its cruelest form. Sure, the guy’s innocent, but he’s been stuck in there like an animal for so long, what if it’s made him dangerous? If he commits a crime, someone’s reputation could be hurt. But if you let him rot, there’s no risk.
In the past a local news reporter might have smelled it out when an innocent man was sentenced to death. Now newspapers cover five or six beats with one underpaid reporter who keeps one eye on the next round of layoffs. Sometimes when local media abandon coverage, Websites take over. It happened in boxing and it’s why sites like BoxingInsider.com can thrive. There are no sites that can look into every filthy nook and cranny of the justice system. But because he’s a former lightweight contender with a record of 24-4-1 (8) we’re able to shine a light on his
Fletcher is just one of America’s 2.3 million prisoners. If they were put together in one place their population would be equal to Houston’s, our fourth-largest city. In fact, our proportion of prisoners measured against the general population is five to ten times bigger than in other Western democracies. The law tells us we’re innocent until proved guilty, and sure, we see obviously guilty defendants like O.J. and Robert Blake and their state-of-the-art legal teams beat the rap. But the criminal justice system treats men like Fletcher as guilty from the get-go. And after they’ve been railroaded, even proving them innocent can be useless, as it is in his case.
Fletcher’s last fights were fought in 1990, when he’d been demoted to the status of aged opponent and thrown in to pad the records of rising stars Oba Carr and Donald Stokes. He was already suffering from a detached retina and other ailments.
By the time out-of-control Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham got hold of Fletcher he was just another disposable black man. She came up during the turbulent days when Frank Rizzo, who’d declared virtual war on the city’s inner city population, served as police commissioner and then mayor. Abraham’s policy was to put people to death whenever she could and failing that, to put them away for as long as possible. It’s so crazy I wouldn’t blame you for thinking I made it up. But she used to brag about her medieval policies. Whatever it took, including concealing the autopsy report that confirmed Vaughn Christopher was shot as he and Fletcher struggled for Christopher’s gun, just as Fletcher said and utterly contrary to the testimony of the chief “witness.”
Why was Christopher stupid enough to stick up a tough ex-fighter and then pull a gun on him again when he spotted Christopher later and confronted him? Maybe the fact that Christopher’s system was teeming with uppers and downers, including plenty of cocaine, had something to do with it. That was in the autopsy report too.
Dan White could plan and execute the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk and get off with five years, but Fletcher got the death penalty for defending his life. The law, Wrote Charles Dickens, is an ass.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that all substantive issues had been tackled by Fletcher in appeals he’d tried to file without the aid of an attorney. Therefore, according to the court, these questions can no longer be addressed.
It’s not consistent with the practices of a free country to issue such a ruling. Further, it’s inconsistent with the practices of a free country for a prosecutor to oppose a new trial on such tyrannical grounds. It’s all terribly reminiscent of the Dred Scott decision of 1857, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that humanity and justice weren’t germane to Scott’s case, that a runaway slave was property and must be returned to his owner even if he stands on free soil.
We all know now that the 1857 ruling was loathsome, and eventually our civilization will consider the 2008 Fletcher decision just as loathsome. But Anthony Fletcher is running out of time. Because he committed no crime, he shouldn’t have to prove the soundness of his mental state. But I’ve found him remarkably centered and personable, far more decent and honorable than those who keep him locked away. His address: Mr. Anthony Fletcher, #CA1706, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg, PA 15370.
(Fourth in a series)
Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE