ELAINE BROWN’S APPEAL FOR “LITTLE B”
EXTRAORDINARY MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL—NEW EVIDENCE FOUND!
Friends and Comrades,
Most people who know me are aware of my support for the legal defense of Michael Lewis, once known as “Little B.” Michael was sentenced to life in prison when he was 13 years old for a murder he did not commit. That was 15 years ago. Simply stated, I am now trying to raise money for a major publicity campaign in connection with new legal steps being taken in his case, toward his freedom. This campaign is projected to cost $10,000, of which I have already raised $4,500. That’s the short of it. If you have an interest in supporting this effort, I have outlined the key issues of the case below, though, as you may also know, I explored all its implications in my book The Condemnation of Little B (Beacon Press, 2002).
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In January 1997, Michael was arrested in Atlanta and charged with the murder of Darrell Woods. Paul Howard, just elected the first black district attorney in Georgia, chose to try Michael as an adult under a new Georgia law. Howard’s decision reflected the tenor of the times, in which there was a seeming mob-like, national hysteria and outcry for “toughness” on crime, especially “black-on-black” crime. This was accompanied by a new, widespread black willingness to condemn black boys like Little B wholesale. Blacks were joining racists in calling for the rope.
In November 1997, Michael was convicted of the murder of Darrell Woods and sentenced to life in prison, to serve a minimum of 14 years. In December, he was transferred to an adult prison, at 14 years old.
Now, having exhausted all appeals on the conviction, we are awaiting a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court on the ruling by Superior Court Judge Charles Rose on our October 2007 Habeas Corpus application hearing. This was a last-ditch effort to obtain a new trial based on new evidence.
At the Habeas hearing, Michael’s attorney, Cynthia Harrison, presented D’André Jones, known as “Mookie,” as a witness. Mookie testified he and Michael and other boys had been riding bikes together in the area at the time Woods was murdered. This testimony had been suppressed at trial and through all appeals—and by the defense!
Cynthia also showed that the prosecution had hidden potentially exculpatory evidence, the videotaped testimony of one of the two young children of the victim, who had been sitting in the back seat of the car when he was shot and killed. In that videotape the older boy stated: “I saw that man shoot my Daddy [emphasis added].”—Nobody with eyes, not even a young boy, would have reasonably deemed Michael, who stood 4’11” and was 13 years old at the time, a “man.”
And, Michael himself finally testified—which had been denied him at his 1997 trial—affirming not only that he did not kill Woods but also that he now knew who had. Wrongly, Judge Rose ruled that while there had been prosecutorial misconduct in concealing the videotaped testimony, the boy’s statement that he had seen “that man” was not exculpatory. But, Judge Rose has no legal standing to rule on evidence because that is strictly for the jury. Rose’s ruling should be overturned and a new trial had. We have been waiting over a year, however, for the Supreme Court’s review, because the record Rose sent to it was “incomplete,” lacking the referenced videotape, which Judge Rose has finally, recently admitted he “lost.”
Now that we have secured another copy of the videotape, and are waiting for Rose to send the complete record to the Supreme Court for review, Cynthia is set to file an Extraordinary Motion for a New Trial. While there are the other issues, the videotape is central to both legal actions. There is no doubt in our minds that Michael will prevail if all the facts are revealed in a new trial.
Michael grew up in the most depressed neighborhood of Atlanta—the Bluff. When he was eight, he realized his mother was using crack cocaine. He had no information about his father. His older brother, “J-Boy,” was in training as a dope boy. By this time, Michael was taking care of himself and his younger sister, Tavia (“Ta-Ta”), who was five years old. He washed their clothes, and, every weekday, fixed Ta-Ta’s hair and dressed her for school, where they would go to get free breakfast and lunch. Eventually, Val, his mother, as Michael would write, “smoked up the water.” Every dime she got from the welfare office and her own dope sales went into her crack pipe, leaving their house, such as it was, without food, lights, heat or running water.
When Michael was 11, the juvenile court declared him “deprived,” and removed him from “the home.” Ta-Ta had already gone off to live with her cousin, “Kiki,” from her father’s family. The court placed Michael under the “protection” of the state welfare agency, which sent him to a group home. Conditions there were so bad, only days later, he ran away, back to the familiar, to the streets of the Bluff. J-Boy put him to work so he could make some money to live on. He sold crack rocks and did runs for older dope boys. He spent nights wherever he could.
Known as “Little B,” this was his life over the next two years, running the streets, watching and betting on pit bull fights, smoking weed, selling dope and doing collections for his brother, going to a strip club one night and riding a bike with his young partners other nights, like the night of the murder of Darrell Woods.
His arrest was publicized widely, the case cast as that of a street “thug” brutally murdering a “good black father.” Something was so obviously wrong with this depiction. There was the locale of the murder, a convenience store in the heart of the Bluff, and the notion that “the family,” Darrell and Kenya Woods and their two young boys, had gone to that store to buy a soda. There was the irrationality of the motive. Michael was said to have ordered the victim, sitting in a car parked in front of the store, to turn off his headlights so as not to expose all the drug trafficking going on there. When Woods was said to have refused, Michael purportedly warned him not to “disrespect” him.—No evidence or testimony of such a dramatic exchange was introduced at trial.—After that, Little B was said to have run off, come back with a big rifle and shot Woods to death, firing through the window, right in front of his two children—which the press sensationalized over and over.
Even more curious was that there was a lot of light where Woods was parked, including street lights and the store lights. Indeed, Kenya testified she had been attracted to this remote corner by the store lights. Moreover, there was nothing to hide. Everybody in the area knew dope was sold in those blocks. All those white kids from nearby Georgia Tech who rolled through for heroin and Ecstasy knew; and the black middle-class college students attending neighboring Morehouse and Clark-Atlanta and Spelman knew, frequenting the area to buy weed and cocaine. All the crack-heads that wandered the streets in the area day and night knew. And, the police certainly knew.
There was also the questionable characterization of the case. Darrell Woods was not quite the loving father and husband of press reports. Only a week or so before he was killed, Kenya had filed her latest charge of assault and battery against him, telling police she never wanted to see “that fucker” again—though all of this went unreported in the press and at trial. Then, there was the fact that the Woodses’ car had only one working headlight. And, there was Kenya’s testimony that she had chosen that store in those unfamiliar blocks despite that the route they had traveled was lined with liquor stores and gas stations and numerous convenience stores and fast-food restaurants where she could have bought a soda.
The killer—probably J-Boy or his drug-dealing cohort “Big E”—had blasted Woods with bullets from a rifle nearly as long as Little B was tall—yet another point not brought out at trial or in the press. Indeed, on the very night of the murder, it was J-Boy and Big E who were arrested as suspects. That same night, however, a narcotics cop who had worked the area for the last 13 years and who was now a homicide detective, Sam Lawter, known in the neighborhood as “Curly Top,” seized control of the investigation. Curly Top immediately announced that an anonymous informant had given him the name of the killer, which, he testified, was “Little B.”
The trial, which took place 10 months after Michael’s arrest, was a template for injustice. The prosecutor was a lying, histrionic black woman, Suzy Ockleberry, who suppressed the videotape of the Woods boy and committed a number of other gross legal violations. Michael was defended by the most incompetent lawyer imaginable, a black man named Gary Guichard, with the indigent defense office of the Conflict Defender, who, at the time of trial, it was later learned, was himself facing felony charges. And, the trial was conducted by a white woman judge, Cynthia Wright, who had no criminal trial experience as a judge and none as a lawyer.—Several years later, Wright would be shot down in the street by her woman lover, which she would survive, in time to preside over the new trial motion in Michael’s case, which she denied.
Big E, Ockleberry’s star witness, testified he saw Little B shoot Darrell Woods, and, even, begged him not to do it. What the jury did not know was that, at that very moment, Big E was facing 40 years to life in prison on his various drug-dealing charges. Months after his testimony, under a deal that remains “sealed” by the State, Big E was released from custody, completely exonerated of his felony drug-dealing charges.—The murder charges against him, as with J-Boy, had long been dropped, J-Boy remaining completely out of sight during the trial—and since then.
Tom-Tom, the heroin dealer, facing federal trafficking charges, testified he saw Michael with an Uzi. Chuckie Boy and Hootie, both crack dealers, testified that Michael had gone behind the store and gotten a rifle or, perhaps, a handgun. Bertha, the crack-head on whose statements the warrant for Michael’s arrest had been obtained by Curly Top and who would receive $2,000 of the $4,000 reward money, was high at the time she testified. Linda Mae Mitchell, another neighborhood crack-head, testified she saw Michael shoot into the car with a handgun from her position in a vacant lot across the street, where she was waiting to buy crack. And, finally, Ockleberry’s investigator was able to vicariously testify for Val, Michael’s mother, that “her son” had “confessed” to her that he had killed Woods.—Val has since made out an affidavit that this was a lie, that she never told the investigator or anyone else that Michael had “confessed.”
Within hours of the end of trial, the jury found Michael guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison because, as Paul Howard snidely declared, the death penalty was legally unavailable for a boy Michael’s age. After the verdict was handed down, Howard held a press conference. He promised Atlanta that after Michael had completed the mandatory minimum of 14 years, he would be at the parole board to make sure Michael did 14 more years.—This wasn’t necessary. The Board denied Michael in February 2011, and continued his sentence five more years, when they declared he will have another opportunity for parole review.
Over the next 10 years after his conviction, Michael fought an uphill appeals battle, turned down at every turn, including by the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the lying witnesses, the prosecutor’s egregious errors, the grossly inadequate defense. All the money we had and raised was spent on those efforts. We were stymied, until I contacted Fulton County Public Defender Vernon Pitts, who so believed—and believes—in Michael’s innocence, he took the unusual step of accepting a Habeas case, assigning it to one of his best appellate attorneys, Cynthia Harrison.—Mookie has since been killed, hit by a car; and, Cynthia has gone into private practice, though carrying with her Michael’s case, handling it pro bono.
Now, as we breathlessly await the decision on the Habeas, and prepare to file the Extraordinary Motion, we believe our hope lies in public awareness and, ideally, outrage.—The Department of Corrections must feel the same. Recently, and for the second time in a year, it denied Michael a press interview, this time with Rhonda Cook of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The public relations firm we have just engaged, The Guarisco Group of Atlanta, handled the case of Genarlow Wilson, a 17-year black boy convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “aggravated child molestation” in connection with a 15-year-old girl’s having performed fellatio on him, which was videotaped at a party. The publicity Guarisco produced around this case undoubtedly contributed to the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to greatly reduce his sentence.—We believe developing a PR campaign with this firm around the Extraordinary Motion for a New Trial will lead to a new trial and Michael’s freedom.
If you want to help, please click the PayPal “DONATE” button on this website and send your contribution directly to his account.
With revolutionary love,
Michael Lewis now.
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*Photograph by Platon.