Support for Michael
THE CASE OF LITTLE B
In 1997, Michael Lewis, “Little B,” a 13-year-old black boy, was arrested, tried and convicted as an adult in Atlanta, Georgia, for a murder he did not commit.
That was 18 years ago. Michael is still in prison.—Worse, he’s been in an isolation cell for the past four years.—In March 2015, he turned 32 years old. The Michael Lewis Legal Defense Committee, headed by former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown, author of The Condemnation of Little B, continues the struggle to free him.
FREE LITTLE B!
After exhausting all appeals on Michael’s conviction, Michael and his Legal Defense Committee now await a decision from a federal court appealing the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the denial of Michael’s October 2007 Habeas Corpus application.
At the same time, Michael is looking to file another Extraordinary Motion for a New Trial, the first such motion having been denied in late 2013. Both the habeas and extraordinary motion rest on evidence not known at trial or during the years of appeal.
For the foreseeable future, though, the most viable pathway to Michael’s release is parole, a review date set for February 2016. In February 2011, Michael was denied parole, after 14 years in prison, on the ground of “nature of the crime”—which can never change. The legal defense team is launching a campaign to gain massive support for his 2016 parole based on the following:
Life Without Parole for a Child Violates the U.S. Constitution. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court (in combined cases of Jackson v. Hobb and Miller v. Alabama) barred sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole as a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” The Board should not circumvent the Court’s decision via parole denials.
Michael is not guilty of the Murder of Darrell Woods. Years into Michael’s prison sentence, it was confirmed that his half-brother Jason Morgan. “J-Boy,” was the real killer of Darrell Woods. Michael testified to this under oath at his habeas corpus hearing.
At that same hearing, Michael’s boyhood chum, D’Andre (Mookie) Jones, testified that Michael, he and a number of other boys were riding bikes in the area when they all heard the shooting. (Jones had given this testimony to Gary Guichard, Michael’s public defender at trial, less than a month after Michael’s arrest, but Guichard refused to call Jones at trial.)
Also, Cynthia Harrison, Michael’s attorney for the habeas application, showed that the prosecutor at trial had illegally hidden evidence that supported Michael’s innocence: the videotaped testimony of one of the victim’s two young children, who had been sitting in the back seat of the car when he was shot and killed. In that videotape, unearthed by Michael’s legal defense team nearly a decade after his conviction, 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.”
Parole to California.
There is no good reason for Michael to be returned to the streets of Atlanta. He has no support there as to education, employment, housing. Worse, his life could be in danger in Atlanta, where the very dope dealers who testified against him, along with J-Boy, still operate their dope businesses.
Georgia is a member state of the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision. The Commission oversees and monitors relocations of parolees. Under its Rule 3.101: “At the discretion of the sending state, an offender shall be eligible for transfer…to a receiving state…if the offender…(b) has a valid plan of supervision…or (e)(1) has a resident family in the receiving state who have indicated a willingness to assist as specified in the plan of supervision; and (2) can obtain employment in the receiving state or has means of support.”
Support in Oakland, California.
Employment. As CEO of the non-profit Oakland & the World Enterprises, Inc., which launches businesses and provides employment to formerly incarcerated people, Elaine Brown has a job waiting for Michael. OAW presently employs formerly incarcerated workers at its urban farm in West Oakland, at the rate of $20/hour, and is developing the site for incubation of other businesses, including a fitness center and tech design business.
Education. Michael can be enrolled in Project Rebound, a program assisting formerly incarcerated people to enter college at San Francisco State University; or, into the Open Gate program at Alameda College, which supports a program for the college education of formerly incarcerated people.
Remedial education. Michael can be immediately enrolled in classes in the Alameda County Office of Education (AOE) system.
Housing and Family. Michael’s biological mother, Valerie Morgan, died in 2014. However, ever since Michael was declared a “deprived child” when he was 10 years old, he was never cared for by Morgan. She never visited him in prison. Since 1997, Elaine Brown has been his surrogate mother, supporting his legal appeals, providing all financial support and visiting him weekly—until her move to Oakland, California, in 2010. Brown has the ability and will to provide Michael housing, transportation, food, clothing, medical care until he achieves the ability to be independent.
Mental Health and Rehabilitation. Michael can enroll in the Innovations in Reentry Transformative Learning Institute program of the Mentoring Center of Oakland, which addresses mental health and behavioral problems of formerly incarcerated people.
There is significant support for Michael’s parole to either Georgia or California, particularly by U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson, Jr. (Georgia, D-4th), and U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (California, D-13th).
When Michael was arrested for the murder of Darrell Woods in January of 1997, Paul Howard had just been sworn in as the first black district attorney in the state of Georgia. Howard chose to try Michael as an adult under a new state 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, as “super-predators.” Blacks were joining racists in calling for the rope.
In November 1997, Michael was convicted of the murder of 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.
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, half- brother J-Boy was in training as a dope boy. By this time, Michael was taking care of himself and his younger sister, Tavia, called 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 10, the juvenile court declared him “deprived,” and removed him from “the home.” Ta-Ta had already gone off to live with a cousin 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. Homeless, he survived by working for J-Boy’s dope operation, standing on corners day and night selling drugs and doing runs for older dope boys. He spent nights wherever he could find a spot.
Known as “Little B,” this was his life over the next two years, running and living on the streets, riding with the older guys one night and riding a bike with his young partners other nights, like the night of the murder of Darrell Woods.
The “Bad Black” Boy vs. The “Good Black” Father
Michael’s arrest was publicized widely as the case of a street “thug” who had brutally murdered 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 a good black father would take his family to that store on that corner at night to buy a soda. And, there was the testimony of Darrell’s wife, Kenya, that she had chosen to stop at that store in those unfamiliar blocks despite that the route they had just traveled was lined with liquor stores, gas stations, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants where she could have bought 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—though 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 closed car window, right in front of Woods’s 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 Woods testified she had been attracted to this remote corner by the store lights. Then, there was the fact that, in any case, the Woodses’ car had only one working headlight. But, there was nothing to hide. Everybody in the area knew dope was sold in those blocks. All the white college kids from nearby Georgia Tech who rolled through for heroin and Ecstasy knew; and the black college students attending neighboring Morehouse and Clark-Atlanta and Spelman knew, frequenting the area to buy marijuana 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.
The killer 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, the police arrested J-Boy and his drug-dealing cohort “Big E” as the prime suspects in the murder of Woods. Later that 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 would testify, was “Little B.”—Charges against J-Boy and Big E were immediately dismissed, and J-Boy was released, while Big E remained jailed—on charges of possession to sell 150 hits of heroin, carrying a sentence of 40-years-to-life.
The Kangaroo Court
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 not only suppressed the videotape of the Woods boys but also committed a number of other gross legal violations. Michael was defended by Gary Guichard, a black man who was the most incompetent lawyer imaginable, working at 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 or 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, J-Boy & Other Dope Boys and Crackheads Profit from Michael’s Trial
Big E, Ockleberry’s star witness, testified he saw Little B shoot Darrell Woods, and, even, begged him not to do it. The jury did not know that Big E was facing 40 years to life in prison on his drug-dealing charges or that the State had made a deal with Big E. Months after his testimony, under that deal—which remains “sealed”—Big E was released from custody, completely exonerated of his felony drug-dealing charges.—Both Big E and J-Boy are still selling drugs in the Bluff.
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 when she testified, stating the one who killed Woods was the one who pistol-whipped her the day before. Linda Mae Mitchell, another neighborhood crack-head, also high on the stand, 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 that night. And, finally, Ockleberry’s investigator was able to vicariously testify for Michael’s mother, Val, that “her son” had “confessed” to her that he had killed Woods.—Years later, Morgan made out an affidavit that this was a lie, that she never told the investigator or anyone else that Michael had “confessed.”
Ockleberry presented no forensic evidence at all, and rested her case. Guichard presented no defense.
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—who was, by then, 14 years old. 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.
Life after 14 years
Denied parole in February 2011, Michael remains in prison. Since October 2011, he has languished in extraordinarily abominable conditions in Georgia’s Jackson State Prison, which houses the State’s gas chamber, in its “high max” wing. For the first year and one-half at Jackson, he was condemned to extreme solitary confinement on a charge of “suspicion of gang activity.” In violation of Georgia’s own prison standard operating procedures, Michael was locked down 24 hours a day. During that period, he was denied all visitors, mail, telephone calls, the one window in his cell painted black. Even mail from his attorney was withheld. Requests by the press to interview him have been summarily denied. The only time he was allowed to leave that isolation cell was to take a shower once or twice a week, escorted in chains, including a dog collar, and led back and forth by a leash.—Now, he can have one 3-hour family visit a week sitting behind glass, four telephone calls per month, and can go outside into the fresh air several times a week to exercise in a cage.
Michael was not punished with “administration segregation,” the “hole,” for all this time because he violated any prison rule. He was singled out for this exceptional—and illegal—punishment because the DOC arbitrarily charged him with being a “gang leader,” a ruse to justify putting him in isolation. Michael has been singularly so persecuted because the DOC identified him as a leader of the Georgia prisoner labor strike in December 2010. Others so identified were similarly isolated though most have gone back into general population and some have been released from prison. His case is extraordinary.
Elaine Brown Online
Michael Lewis now.