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What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.

This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Exonerated after 48 years in prison and now fighting Stage 4 cancer

Exonerated after 48 years in prison and now fighting Stage 4 cancer

December 24, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. EST

Glynn Simmons was incarcerated 48 years after Oklahoma wrongfully convicted him of murder. He finally was released this summer. (Nick Oxford for The Washington Post)

“For 48 years, one month and 18 days, Glynn Simmons was trapped in an undeserved hell.

Simmons was convicted and initially sentenced to the death penalty for a murder he always insisted he did not commit. By the time the state of Oklahoma conceded that he’d not gotten a fair trial and there wasn’t enough evidence to retry him, he was approaching 71, a worn-down man beset by a string of health issues, with a son and grandchildren he hoped to finally get to know outside of prison walls.

But nearly four months after being assured of his freedom, Simmons is running out of time.

The man who holds the grim record of longest wrongful-conviction case in U.S. history has Stage 4 colon cancer, which at this point offers him only a minimal chance of surviving the next five years. He should be due $175,000 in compensation from the state under Oklahoma’s tort claim law — the equivalent of $3,645 for each year he was wrongfully imprisoned — but has yet to see a penny and is relying on a GoFundMe effort to help cover his living expenses and medical bills.

“He can’t get a job now,” says Joe Norwood, one of his attorneys. “He has to get hooked up to a chemo machine every two weeks.”

The failures that for decades defined, constrained and robbed Simmons’s life — racial bias, inadequate representation, police misconduct — are familiar ones in sagas such as his.

Simmons and another Black man were convicted of capital murder for the 1974 killing of a young White woman at a liquor store in Edmond, Okla., despite no physical evidence linking them to the crime scene and multiple witnesses insisting Simmons was in Louisiana on the night of the shooting. The case hinged on the testimony of an 18-year-old eyewitness, who identified both in a lineup despite telling police she did not remember much and only saw the gunmen for a split second.

And the aftermath of Simmons’s release is not unfamiliar either: He is caught between the state setting him free and making up for its error, a limbo that, to his supporters, seems all the more cruel because of his cancer.

“I believe the compensation will come someday,” he says, “but I don’t know if I have the luxury of time.”

His cause cleared a critical hurdle on Tuesday when a judge officially declared him innocent. “This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the offense for which Mr. Simmons was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned … was not committed by Mr. Simmons,” District Judge Amy Palumbo said in her ruling.

Despite the pronouncement, his prospects are uncertain: The district attorney responsible for his vacated conviction subsequently opposed an innocence claim, and it’s unclear how Oklahoma’s attorney general will decide on the tort claim. His lawyer worries that the state’s check could take anywhere from a couple months to two years to arrive.

For now, Simmons’s life on the outside continues as a series of milestones:attending his first NBA game, visiting the zoo for the first time and, on Monday, celebrating his first Christmas with lights and decorations in nearly half a century. He’s not sure of all the holiday plans, just that he’ll at last be with family.

As for the new year? “I haven’t even looked that far ahead,” he says.

The man smiles big and laughs easily these days. Yet just below the surface, he remains infuriated by a legal system and a state that he says still hasn’t apologized to him for wrongfully taking away more than two-thirds of his life — and then, if he’s lucky, offering him less than $4,000 for every year.

“What’s been done can’t be undone,” Simmons allowed after his hearing last week. “But there can be accountability.”

Carolyn Sue Rogers was working that December night at the Edmond Liquor Store only because a friend was sick. It was about 9:30 p.m. when two armed men walked in, and Rogers, stationed at the front cash register, picked up the phone to call police. In an instant, she was shot in the head with a .22-caliber revolver.

The men then ordered another store clerk to take money out of the register and stuff it into a paper bag. That’s when Belinda Brown entered the store to buy tequila with a fake ID. The White college student walked by one of the men and was also shot in the head, according to police.

The assailants fled the store with more than $1,000 in cash and several bottles of liquor. Brown survived. Rogers, a mother of two, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

That same night, a 22-year-old Simmons was more than 700 miles away in Harvey, La. Multiple people later testified that he’d been there for hours, playing games of $9 nine-ball and $4 four-ball at the Agnus Pool Hall and Joe’s Lounge.

“It was a night like every other night,” Simmons says, “until they said I killed somebody.”

Fast forward several weeks. Simmons remembers how he had just moved to Oklahoma City to live with an aunt and work at a restaurant and a hospital. He was making money and looking to get his own place.

As police were investigating the liquor-store murder, they were looking into similar crimes in the area. After two brothers were arrested in connection with the deaths of two men whose bodies were found in a rural area outside of Oklahoma City, police learned the brothers had been at a party hosted by Simmons’s cousin. They started detaining party guests to be put into lineups for Rogers’s killing. Simmons was one of them. So was 21-year-old Don Roberts. They had never met until then.

The next day, police told Simmons that he’d been identified and, along with Roberts, was under arrest.

“When you’re totally innocent, you think, ‘It’s a mistake, it’s going to be corrected,’” Simmons says. “I had never been to Edmond, Oklahoma, in my life.”

Their murder trial lasted less than 72 hours. Though several people testified that Simmons was in Louisiana on the night of Rogers’s killing, just as Roberts’s sister testified that he was in Dallas, prosecutors relied heavily on Brown’s testimony and her selection of both men from the lineup.

It was all the jury needed. On June 6, 1975, the pair were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. “I cried because my mama was screaming so loud in the courtroom,” Simmons says. “It was a feeling of indescribable helplessness.” Even when his sentence was altered to life in prison, little changed.

In 2021, Simmons reached out to Norwood, a Tulsa attorney who had helped get another man exonerated after 28 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Norwood soon realized that Simmons’s initial defense lawyer had not called allalibi witnesses to testify. The attorney, who was disbarred years later for neglecting his clients, had also failed to ask for a report of the police lineups that falsely implicated Simmons.

As for police, they had not shared the report that showed how Brown had identified four other people during the eight lineups. Most crucially, Norwood stressed in an amended application for post-conviction relief in 2022 that she “NEVER identified Simmons and Roberts in a lineup.” (Brown, who is still alive, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

“Identifying two Black men in jail suits and chains while they’re sitting at the defense table ain’t an identification,” the attorney says. “That’s not a lineup. That’s a setup.”

Roberts was released on parole in 2008 after more than three decades in prison, and his conviction remains. The push to exonerate Simmons built slowly at first, then suddenly accelerated this spring. Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna, who headed the Oklahoma Innocence Project before she switched to elective office in 2022, filed the motion to vacate his sentence.

“It is a prosecutor’s responsibility to ensure the constitutional right to a fair trial, and he didn’t get one,” Behenna said.

In July, Judge Palumbo agreed and ordered a new trial. Simmons was released on bond within days.

Some seven weeks later, Behenna announced that her office determined “the state will not be able to meet its burden at trial and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simmons was responsible for Rogers’ murder.” Eight days later, Palumbo agreed to dismiss the case because witnesses and detectives involved in the initial trial were either dead or unavailable for a new one. Simmons wasexonerated, even if the district attorney wouldn’t formally say so at that point.

“It was literally life and death,” says Norwood, whose greatest worries included his client’s advanced cancer. “It was very weird going through this legal victory to help Glynn and, in the same breath, to get him to doctors so that he wouldn’t die.”

Months of day-long chemotherapy sessions have weakened Simmons, but he puts on a happy face while out for lunch. Sitting next to him at the restaurant is his son, Glenn Smith, 52. The two banter, with Simmons saying how he loves his son’s cooking and puts up with his occasional snoring.

He has been living with colon cancer since 2021. He underwent surgery, but the following year, prison doctors found a lesion on his liver. Simmons says it went untreated as his facility, like others across the country, grappled with the pandemic and the rapid, deadly spread of covid. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

“I didn’t get no treatment until I got out of prison,” Simmons says.

For Kim T. Cole, a Dallas attorney advising him in a parallel process for federal compensation, his case is a personal one. Simmons had befriended Cole’s brother when he was incarcerated in the 1990s.

“It’s great that he’s out, but he lost almost 50 years of his life, and now he’s terminally ill,” she says. What happened to him is “a travesty.”

Her criticism extends to Oklahoma’s wrongful-conviction compensation law, which has come under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers. Its maximum compensation of $175,000 lags far behind neighboring states; Texas and Kansas, for example, give $80,000 and $50,000, respectively, for each year of a wrongful conviction.

The Oklahoma House introduced a bill this year to eliminate the current cap and award wrongfully convicted individuals $50,000 for each year behind bars. It’s unclear whether Simmons would be able to amend his claim for compensation should the measure become law.

But it’s not just about the money for him. What irks Simmons and his inner circle is the lack of accountability from anyone in the state for wrongfully convicting him and robbing him of so much.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Tom Bates, executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that denied Simmons’s multiple efforts at parole, also declined an interview request. Officials with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office as well as the Edmond Police Department did not respond. The latter put out a statement in 2014 saying it had “no reason to believe the wrong people were prosecuted for this crime.”

Behenna, the district attorney who stepped into the case this year, maintained in the weeks before the judge’s ruling that Simmons was not “factually innocent.” But she says she met with him at a recent event and privately apologized for what he had been through. Simmons disputes that.

For now he’s back in Oklahoma City, trying to figure out how to survive his disease and support himself. His GoFundMe had limped along, far shy of its initial $50,000 goal, until last week’s headlines about his innocence. Two days later, contributions topped $230,000 — with one anonymous donor giving $30,000. The goal was increased tenfold.

“Sometimes I may be physically weak,” he says, “but my faith is always strong.”

Simmons is having as much fun as he can, especially when playing with his three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. On a rainy night, he flashes a smile and hugs his son on a balcony while someone snaps a photo. His happiness could light up the city. It reveals what could have been.

His hearing on Tuesday took less than 20 minutes but was momentous. He exited the courtroom with supporters and then acknowledged the long arc of justice in his case. His tone again signaled how he’s trying to look forward.

“There is life after prison,” Simmons says, “and there is a good life after prison.”

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