By Ivan G. Goldman
Anthony Fletcher, Jr., 33, the son of ex-lightweight fighter Anthony Fletcher, who was railroaded on a murder charge and sent to Pennsylvania’s Death Row more than 20 years ago, was shot to death in his West Philadelphia residence Saturday night.
Junior was just about the age of Senior when he was sent to prison after being wrongfully convicted in the 1992 death of small-time stickup man and drug-addict Christopher Vaughn. The relationship between father and son was strong, though for the past two decades much of it consisted of talking across prison glass in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Anthony Junior’s death is part of a continuing chain of misfortune that visits itself upon generation after generation as though it were a tale from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
As is usually the case in ghetto murders, very little of the circumstances surrounding Anthony Junior’s death has been reported. The unspoken assumption is that no one should be surprised when residents of certain neighborhoods are shot to death. It’s what journalism professors call a dog-bites-man story. Professors teach their students to look for more freakish man-bites-dog fare, as was the case in Purchase, New York, when Jean Harris of the Social Register fatally shot her lover, Scarsdale Diet Dr. Herman Tarnower, in 1980. Harris, guilty of premeditated murder, was freed by New York Governor Mario Cuomo after doing 12 years. She made the news again when she died this week at the age of 89.
Anthony Fletcher, Sr. turned pro after a successful career as an Army boxer. He quit the ring in 1990 with a record of 24-4-1 (8 KOs). His court-appointed attorney left a trail of grotesque errors, none of which were reported by local news media. Evidence of his innocence sits in a drawer of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office. A judge once ordered a new trial, but he was overruled by the state Supreme Court, whose members chose to focus on procedural errors rather than the facts of the case.
Apparently Anthony Junior, a hospital worker, was unarmed when he was shot. Police were looking for three black men who fled in a dark vehicle. Two other men, also apparently unarmed, were found wounded at the scene. Few details were available.
Anthony Senior, who as a former contender was looked up to by neighborhood kids, had a reputation for trying to steer them straight. When I began writing about him I heard from sparring partners and others who all described him as uncommonly kind. I also heard from a white ex-fighter, Damon Feldman, whose mother was severely disabled. “He helped raise me when I was a kid,” said Feldman. Knowing that Feldman lived in rough circumstances, Fletcher used to take him to movies and sporting events and try to provide a more positive environment for him. “If it wasn’t for him,” Feldman said, “I may have died or gotten in a lot of trouble.”
Back in 1992, Christopher, who’d served time for armed robbery, took $50 at gunpoint from Fletcher. When Fletcher saw him later on the street he punched him in the face. Christopher pulled his pistol, Fletcher grabbed the barrel, and two shots wounded Christopher. There is evidence that Christopher’s family, for religious reasons, instructed the hospital to withhold medical procedures, and the patient bled to death.
The autopsy report supports Fletcher’s account, but when Fletcher refused to plead guilty to a lesser charge, the District Attorney’s Office pressed for first-degree murder and the death penalty. Prosecution strategy included suppressing and “losing” key evidence and telling flat-out lies, such as declaring that Fletcher was called “Two Guns” because he wore two guns on the street. It was actually a ring moniker no more accurate than saying Bernard Hopkins walks the streets with an “executioner” ax. Lesser prosecutors begin to see the criminal justice system as a vast poker game, where it doesn’t matter what the cards actually say. What counts to them is who rakes in the pot.
Had Anthony Senior, himself raised by a single mother, not been unjustly imprisoned, he might have made enough 0f a difference to get his son into a safer environment. The death of Anthony Fletcher, Jr. reminds us that one injustice begets others in an ever-widening circle. The father has remained uncommonly upbeat for a prisoner on Death Row, convinced that the truth will make a difference. I’ve been unable to communicate with him since learning of his son’s death. I originally heard about it from European activists who refuse to let the 1992 case rest.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, both of whom could right the wrong, have proved themselves proficient at hunkering down and doing nothing.
Ivan G. Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter was nominated as a 2009 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Information HERE