By Ivan G. Goldman
The recent series of articles on this site about Anthony Fletcher, an ex-boxer framed for murder 20 years ago in Philadelphia, has created some ripples in the sludge pond we call justice, but big-time news media have laid off the story, preferring to follow more important topics such as Kim Kardashian’s self-flushing $100,000 toilet.
This allows Pennsylvania authorities to keep pretending their pants aren’t on fire. They know about the Fletcher series but figure they can afford to dodge issues raised on a boxing site.
Sure, I’ve had some nibbles from general-news purveyors, but tired old injustices aren’t nearly as compelling to them as brand new injustices with flashy news angles. If a child was brutally molested 20 minutes ago, that’s a big, big story. Breaking news, as they say. But if she was raped 20 years ago and no celebrities were involved, it’s probably not worth a paragraph anymore, especially if the story offers no gripping visuals such as real-life images of Snooki standing around doing nothing.
Just recently I received a call from a major news outlet gatekeeper, one of the higher-ups who decide what will or will not get attention in the big-time media. He wanted to present Anthony’s story, but he needed, he said, to find a current news angle.
His assistant had asked me in a previous conversation whether Fletcher, now 56, has an execution date. Good question. No, I responded. He doesn’t, and I doubt he’ll ever get one. If authorities actually tried to put him to death it would attract too much attention. They prefer to let him die of old age so their blundering frame-up, followed by a cover-up, won’t be further exposed. The news person at the end of the line apologized profusely. “It gets frustrating,” she said, “but there must always be a hook.” A hook is media talk for a hot gimmick that will provide an excuse to present a story.
Fletcher “should demand a sex change,” a friend of mine on a New York daily suggested. “Then somebody might pay attention to him.” But he needn’t get that extreme. Just Marrying a Kardashian would do it.
Thanks to the missing hook, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office successfully overturned a court order granting Fletcher a new trial, can go home to dinner at night without worrying about any negative consequences to himself. And there’s no serious pressure exerted on Chief Public Defender Ellen Greenlee, who could, if she chose, look for a way to move Fletcher’s case out of the hopelessly debased state system into the federal courts, where some jurist might decide that perhaps the case of a defendant proved innocent by the official autopsy report deserves a second look.
And apparently Republican Governor Tom Corbett sees little to gain from pardoning a black ex-fighter who got screwed by authorities twenty years ago. People like Fletcher and his family are not part of Corbett’s voter base. What if Fletcher, a one-time lightweight contender who retired with a record of 24-4-1 (8KOs), picked up bad habits from two decades of solitary confinement? If he were freed he might go out and commit an actual crime this time. Corbett can avoid risks to his political career by letting Fletcher continue to serve what amounts to a lifetime of preventive detention.
I’ve traded ideas about Anthony’s predicament with various representatives of major media, institutions, and foundations, but they back away or just drift away because of the absence of a hook or hot video footage or the fact that there’s no DNA evidence involved or because no execution date has been set. I won’t name these entities because they need to be free to converse with me without fear of embarrassment. At least they considered doing something. That’s not as objectionable as dismissing the idea without even looking into it.
Case review: the post mortem on the corpse of Vaughn Christopher shows clearly from the sharp angles of the bullets that on March 2, 1992, he was shot twice during a struggle at very close quarters, just as Fletcher said. Christopher, who’d done time for previous robberies, held him up at gunpoint. Fletcher spotted him later, confronted him, and threw a punch. Christopher pulled a pistol, Fletcher grabbed for it and aimed the barrel away from himself. Two shots rang out, and Christopher fell. That’s not murder, and the evidence proves it.
But authorities picked up a crack addict with a long rap sheet, confronted her with six old warrants, and convinced her to testify that Fletcher, not Christopher, pulled the pistol, and that Fletcher shot Christopher from a distance of ten to fifteen feet. When they noticed their tale was refuted in the autopsy report, authorities made sure the medical examiner wasn’t informed of the trial. Prosecutors ran right over Fletcher’s bungling court-appointed attorney.
Because Fletcher tried to represent himself on appeals, he was prevented on procedural grounds from raising any points that are at all related to the ineptness of his defense. The way the state Supreme Court saw it, Fletcher’s innocence was of no consequence, so he remains on death row, where, officials figure, the passage of time will finish the job on him.
I have copies of supporting documents and will show them to anyone with a pulse. In the old days local newspapers might jump all over a story like this and pressure officials to right the wrong. But daily papers are dying institutions, their budgets devastated and their staffs decimated. If the Philadelphia Inquirer were to check it out it would have to own up to its terrible reporting on the original case. Without checking the facts, it quoted a prosecutor gone wild who claimed Fletcher had executed Christopher by shooting him in the back. As for local TV stations, they look for stories that frighten or amuse. A complex story without good visuals is miles outside their interests or capabilities.
It’s particularly distressing that networks that carry boxing events don’t care enough about Fletcher’s plight to even mention it. Network people have provided encouragement but no air time, though I can’t blame on-camera people. They can’t delve into a story like this without approval from bosses in corner offices.
Fletcher, an Army veteran, still believes that proof of his innocence eventually will matter and that America will recognize its mistake and try to correct it. Kardashians, if they don’t have more pressing concerns, can reach him at Anthony Fletcher, #CA1706, 175 Progress Dr., Waynesburg, PA 15370.
Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE