By Ivan G. Goldman
In the media business we require a “hook,” a fresh angle to keep a story alive. For now I’ve pretty much run out of hooks for Anthony Fletcher, an ex-lightweight contender jailed since March 1992 by the uncaring, shoddy justice system that existed in Philadelphia at the time and continues to protect its own to this day.
A stickup man who’d robbed Anthony in a previous incident pulled a gun on him out on the street. Anthony grabbed it and turned the barrel away from him as they wrestled for control, and the attacker, Vaughn Christopher, was shot twice. Anthony, a former G.I. who’d returned to the hard streets of Philly when his fight career ended, refused to cop a plea to a lesser crime. Christopher, an addict with lots of illegal substances in his system, had done time for previous robberies.
Then-District Attorney, Lynne Abraham had a policy of extracting the death penalty whenever possible. The first woman elected to that position, she was determined to prove she had bigger balls than all her predecessors. Abraham charged Anthony with homicide and won her death penalty case. She probably doesn’t even remember him. She held her post for 19 years and her office prosecuted thousands of cases each year, filling Death Row with defendants. She earned the nicknames “Deadliest DA” and “Queen of Death” for obvious reasons. Anthony has sat in a tiny cell ever since with almost no privileges.
He tried filing his own appeals, for which he has been terribly punished. In 2004 a judge, looking at the twisted and lost evidence, particularly the autopsy evidence (the angle of the bullets proved Anthony’s account), ordered a new trial. The Philadelphia D.A.’s Office, instead of admitting its errors, actually fought to prevent a retrial, and the state Supreme Court went along. Without looking at the facts of the case, the high court ruled that any issues brought up in his do-it-yourself appeals can never be considered in future appeals and rescinded the new-trial order. Thus another seal was placed over his live entombment.
Make no mistake, Anthony, who went 24-4 (8KOs) lifetime, isn’t doing time for Christopher’s death. He’s doing time for refusing to plead guilty to a lesser offense those many years ago. The state doesn’t try to execute him because that would bring attention to his case, which included the police department “losing” Christopher’s shirt. Anthony’s court-appointed attorney didn’t seem to notice and never objected when the judge read vastly objectionable instructions to the jury.
The shirt alone would have proved Anthony’s innocence, since Abraham’s prosecutors actually told the jury Christopher had been “executed” from a distance of several feet. No test was done for powder burns that also would have proved Anthony’s account. The state prefers to see him rot, and in the fullness of time, die. He turned 56 last month.
This site won an investigative award this year from the Boxing Writers Association of America for our 2012 coverage of Anthony’s plight. But other media outlets have since failed to follow up. Lawyers step up from time to time, but no one can figure out how to get past the State Supreme Court ruling.
Deep in the bowels of the Pennsylvania justice system there is a public defender’s office that’s supposed to take up his appeal but doesn’t do so. I expect his case needs to get into the federal system, which isn’t part of the Pennsylvania Old Boy Network that protects people like Lynne Abraham, who’s proved to have big, big balls and friends in high places.
We ask readers to remain aware of Anthony this holiday season, to do whatever you can to help him. Just write him and say hi if that’s all you can do. You can find his address and many other details on the Free Anthony Fletcher site.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.