Friday, November 30, 2007

If Sheehan Writes Two More

The N&O’s Ruth Sheehan’s column today begins:

How did Alan Gell, North Carolina's poster boy for the wrongly imprisoned and nearly executed, end up serving time for getting a 15-year-old pregnant?

Maybe, after being sent away at age 19, he is stuck in a teenage time warp. Maybe he just couldn't keep his trousers zipped. Maybe the State Bureau of Investigation is out to get him.

I'd say it's a combination of the three. This week, Gell was sentenced to five years for taking indecent liberties.

If that seems harsh for indecent liberties, it is.

Department of Correction data show that Gell got a longer sentence than 75 percent of the people convicted of the same crime this year -- nearly half of whom got only probation.

This, even though there were no aggravating circumstances in the Gell case.

This, even though the Gell case involved a consensual relationship and neither the victim nor the victim's mother wanted Gell prosecuted.

Rather, they want him out, to be a father to his year-old son.

The refreshing thing is that Gell admits that what he did was wrong.

That's something the state has never done, even after fabricating and withholding evidence that nearly led to his execution for a 1995 murder.

Instead the state spent untold thousands retrying what a jury quickly decided was a bogus murder charge.

The original prosecutors got a little scolding from the N.C. State Bar. And the local police department paid Gell $93,700.

An SBI agent, however, is still being sued by Gell.

And guess what? It's that agent's boss who pursued this sex case against Gell.
Sheehan goes on to report details that make it obvious law enforcement officials are treating Gell in a manner they’d treat few others in similar circumstances involving indecent liberties.

You really ought to read her entire column if you’ve not done so already.

Sheehan concludes:
Gell is paying a heavy price for his mistakes.

But it seems to me that we, the taxpayers, and Gell are paying for the state's mistakes as well.
I think Sheehan got it right in today's column.

I’ve just sent her the following email:

Dear Ms. Sheehan:

I know we’re both sorry for the latest mess involving Alan Gell.

Those portions of your column which detailed facts concerning the case served an important public information purpose.

Those portions which discussed issues raised by the state’s handling of Gell’s latest case were informed and on the mark.

Your column illustrates how a news column can serve the public interest.

I hope you write two other columns which will also serve the public interest.

The first would remind the community of the threats, including death threats, Reade Seligmann endured from racists on May 18, 2006; the community’s silence in response to them; and the responsibility and pressing need for Duke's and Durham’s leaders to come together to determine why they were silent and how they can now speak and act most effectively in response to what the racists did that day at the Durham courthouse.

Such a column would be a service to every decent person at Duke, in Durham and in the wider community.

The second column I hope you write has to do with a small bathroom: the one Crystal Mangum falsely claimed she was gang-raped in.

People who've been in that bathroom tell me it’s so small they don’t see any way Mangum and the three young men could have fit inside, gotten the door closed and then participated in the acts and struggle Mangum described.

I know of no reporter who’s looked at the bathroom and described it for readers.

Do you know of any reporting or commentary on why the public has never seen photos of that bathroom? Has Duke denied the press and TV access to it? If so, why?

When the public learns more about the size of the bathroom, that will help the community reconcile.

It will also lessen the onus that will, unfairly, nevertheless follow the innocent young men all their lives, and place them at risk of other false accussations from the same sorts of people who first trashed them, and then tried to send them to prison.

I hope, Ms. Sheehan, you agree you should write those columns.

Here’s a link to a post containing this email:


John in Carolina


Anonymous said...

Great work, John. What about a retrospective on the N&O's role in fueling the frame? Many readers don't know of the late March 2006 coverage that set the stage for Nifong's false charges.

Anonymous said...

If the owner (Duke) of the infamous house won't admit reporters to the interior to inspect the size of the bathroom, it shouldn't be a problem for some enterprising local person to find the floorplan for the house in public records. Failing that, there must be numerous houses in the same neighborhood with identical floorplans. Go inside, take photos, take measurements, etc. Publish same on the internet where bloggers can upload and further disseminate. We already know that bloggers reach infinitely more people than columnists like Ruth Sheehan. Come on John, get going!