SPOTLIGHT ON INJUSTICE - THE CASE OF MAURICE CARTER

 

Introduction by Ali Khalid Abdullah of the Political Prisoners of War Coalition

 

We have been following a particular story regarding a man named Maurice Carter, who is currently languishing in one of Michigan's prisons (death kkkamps) for an alleged crime he clearly did not commit. As a result of doing some investigation into this man's case and the events leading to his unjust arrest and conviction, we are convinced that this man, Maurice Carter, deserves to be acknowledged and supported by the overall community of Freedom Fighters, those who believe in justice and fundamental fairness throughout the world and helped in winning public support and aid for a new trial or for complete exoneration of his conviction. We are calling on ALL our politically conscious brothas and sistahs to stand up with us and help free a man that has been so wrongly denied anything resembling justice. We are also asking that you please contact all the parties you will find listed at the end of his story and to especially contact Mr. Maurice Carter in person...

 

In the trenches..

Ali Khalid Abdullah # 148130, Ryan Correctional Facility, 17600 Ryan Road, Detroit, MI 48212, USA

 

MAURICE CARTER

 

This is a true story about a black man being in the wrong place at the wrong time: Benton Harbour, Michigan, December 20, 1973. As a result, he ended up with a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. The Maurice Carter Case is probably the most publicised one in the Southwestern part of the state. His case has been aired nationally on CNN, CBS's 48 hours and on Detroit's Joe Madison's Radio talk show. Also his case has been printed in numerous newspapers throughout the state. This crime happened in Benton Harbour. A black man was accused of assaulting and shooting a white policeman on December 20th, 1973. What makes this case stand out from others is how Benton Harbour (Berrien County), Michigan criminal justice system used false information to obtain a warrant, applied corrupt police tactics, convened a selective all white jury, appointed an incompetent defense attorney and provided an overzealous prosecution. The system incorporated all of the above and perpetuated racism in order to win a conviction. The Maurice Carter conviction is a text book example of how Michigan's justice system does not work and how some officials use cases such as this one as a stepping stone to enhance their own personal and political agendas: including public servants in the police department, conspiring defense attorneys, and overly ambitious prosecutors.

 

THE CRIME

According to the court and police records, around 1pm on a sunshiny, crisp winter day, December 20, 1973, policeman Thomas Schadler and his wife were doing some Christmas shopping in downtown Benton Harbour. Both entered a black owned ' Wig and Record shop' while a black female sales clerk was assisting a lone black male. Without paying any attention to the black man in the store, the Schadlers with their backs turned away, began looking at some music tapes. Suddenly and without any provocation, the black man walked up behind Thomas Schadler and shot him several times. He also took a shot at Ruth Schadler after she tried to prevent the gunman from further assaulting her husband. In less than a minute or so the gunman fled the store leaving Thomas and Ruth Schadler and the female sales clerk (Gwen Baird) in total shock and hysteria. After being shot four times in the back and head area, Tom Schadler struggled to his feet and attempted to go after his assailant. However, once outside the store he slipped and fell but still managed to pull his own gun out and fired it at the gunman who was by now midway down the block. After a massive police manhunt, the gunman was able to get away.

 

On the sane day, December 20, 1973, Maurice Carter and Wilbur Gillespie were coming out of the Benton Harbour Hotel, also located downtown. As they came out of the hotel together, two unknown policemen explained to them that a robbery had occurred and they were looking for the perpetrator. Both Maurice and Wilbur acknowledged they saw no one or anything unusual. After a brief questioning the police took their names and addresses and they were allowed to go.After talking to the unknown uniformed policemen, Maurice and Wilbur Gillespie walked a couple of blocks East away from the Benton Harbour Hotel to another friend's apartment. Once inside Jerry's place, Maurice stayed a while then left. He went to a tavern which was located next door to his friend's apartment. A few minutes after entering the bar another set of policemen in plain clothes came in the tavern behind him. They also wanted to talk to Maurice regarding the same incident (robbery) which happened earlier. They asked Maurice if he would be willing to go to the scene of the crime for identification by a witness who was still at the crime scene. Without any problem or resistance, Maurice, now in the custody of the police officers, went with them to the crime scene.

 

Once at the 'Wig and Record shop', Gwen Baird, the female sales clerk who witnessed the shooting was asked if she could identify the man (Maurice Carter) who the policemen now had at the crime scene. Gwen Baird told the supervising officer Captain Harold Harris that Maurice Carter was not the man, his features did not match the assailant who shot officer Thomas Schadler. She further stated that the assailant that they should be looking for was heavy set, very dark skinned and was wearing a green fatigue like coat. At the time Maurice was brought to the crime scene he was wearing a grey dress coat and his skin colour was light brown in complexion and he was not heavy set. Gwen Baird's statements at the crime scene and her non-identification of Maurice Carter were never disclosed during Maurice's subsequent trial. Captain Harold Harris a supervisor witness, knew that information existed but neither the prosecutor or the defense called him to testify about Gwen Baird's non identification of Maurice Carter on December 20,1973.

 

Maurice was released as a result of Gwen Baird's non identification. Also after an All Point Bulletin (APB) verified there were no outstanding warrants against Maurice and the fact that he had been topped and questioned the first time with Wilbur Gillespie. He was given a ride back to the Benton Harbour Hotel by the police. Once back at the hotel he learnt that all the hotel rooms had been searched by the police. Later that night, Maurice ran into Wilbur Gillespie at the Ponderosa bar and he told Wilbur what had happened after he left him at Jerry's apartment earlier in the day. He also told Wilbur he thought it was time to leave Benton Harbour and visit his grandmother in Oklahoma and his father in California. A few days later Maurice Carter left Benton Harbour, Michigan.

 

TWO YEARS LATER

Soon after the shooting of policeman Thomas Schadler, in Benton Harbour, Michigan, Maurice left and went to visit his grandmother and other relatives in Dow and McAlister, Oklahoma. He stayed with them over the Christmas and New Years holidays. Afterwards he went to Los Angeles, California to visit his father. He stayed and worked in California for a while.

After his stay in California, Maurice Carter was back in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. He was unaware Wilbur Gillespie was in serious trouble with Benton Harbour, Michigan Police Department for a delivery of heroin charge. In November of 1975, it appeared that Wilbur Gillespie got caught with some narcotics in a police drug raid. Because of his past record and the fact that he didn't want to go back to prison, he decided to play ball with the police. The Schadler's case was unsolved and the police thought that Wilbur knew something about it. It was during his November of 1975 jail time that Wilbur Gillespie and the Benton Harbour, Michigan Police Department manipulated each other. Al Edwards, the policeman in charge of the Schadler's case told Wilbur Gillespie that since his back was up against the wall and he was facing a life sentence as a result of his criminal history that if he played ball with them, he (Al Edwards) would see to it that everything would work out in his favour, and with $5000 reward money. On December 20, 1975 Wilbur Gillespie signed his statement claiming that he saw Maurice Carter running from the scene of the crime on December 20, 1973.

On the same day and after the conference with detective Al Edwards and Wilbur Gillespie, John Smietanka, the local prosecutor for Berrien County, issued a warrant for Maurice Carter's arrest.THE ARREST

One month later, January 5th, 1976, in Gary, Indiana, Maurice was arrested and charged with Assault with Intent to Commit the Murder of policeman, Thomas Schadler which happened on December 20, 1973. Because Maurice knew he was innocent he waived extradition procedures that very same day.

Maurice was transported 60 miles and arrived at Benton Harbour, Michigan city jail at 10pm that night. While Maurice was in the custody of the city jail, Al Edwards called the local newspaper and informed them about the Maurice Carter arrest. That same night a photographer came to the jail and took a picture of Maurice. The next day Jan 6th, Maurice's picture appeared on the front page of the Herald Palladium News accusing him of being the shooter of policeman Thomas Schadler. The following week, on Jan 13th the police arranged a line up for the victims, Thomas and Ruth Schadler. They both picked Maurice Carter as the assailant. Also another witness, Nancy Butzbaugh, identified him from a second floor apartment building view on the day of the incident in 1973. However, one of the prosecution's key witnesses, the black female sales clerk, Gwen Baird, was not at this police line up on Jan 13, 1976.

 

THE TRIAL

The Berrien County Court system appointed attorney James K. Jesse from Buchanan, Michigan to represent Maurice Carter for trial. During the preliminary examination on January 15, 1976, Wilbur Gillespie, Thomas and Ruth Schadler testified that Maurice Carter was the man on the day of December 20th, 1973 who they saw either running from the scene of the crime or the gunman who committed the crime. Basically their testimony bound him over for trial.

While waiting in the county jail for trial to commence, Maurice began writing letters to his Indiana State Senator, Michigan's Attorney General and to the Benton Harbor, Michigan NAACP local chapter. He explained to everyone that he was in jail for a crime he did not commit and that the police was using false information against him. No one wanted to get involved because this was a black man charged with shooting a white policeman.

The court's records reflect that prior to the trial, at no time did attorney James K. Jesse motioned the court for a discovery disclosure of all the police records containing the victim's and other witness statements and descriptions. Maurice told him he was innocent of the crimes, yet the attorney went to trial unprepared. Attorney James K. Jesse never questioned the suggestive and biased police and newspaper tactics of allowing Maurice's picture to appear on the front page of the local newspaper before he was given a police line-up. After all he was not arrested as a result of the victim's Thomas and Ruth Schadler, identifying him. It was Wilbur Gillespie's statement. After Maurice's picture appeared two years later in the local newspaper, only then did the Schadler's pick him out as their assailant. During the May 1976 trial, they testified that Maurice Carter was their assailant.

Also during the May 1976 trial, prosecution eye witness Gwen Baird and Connie Allen testified that Maurice Carter was most definitely not the man who shot policeman Thomas Schadler. Both state the gunman was much darker and heavy set. Prosecution witness Wilbur Gillespie recanted his previous Jan. 15, 1976 preliminary examination testimony against Maurice. He told the all white jury at trial that detective Al Edwards threatened him with a life sentence if he did not cooperate with him.

After the Maurice Carter trial, Wilbur Gillespie was charged with perjury and he was sentenced to 15-30 years in prison, yet it was his statement of December 20, 1975 which implicated Maurice as the assailant and which led to his arrest.

As a result of Maurice's state appointed attorney not requesting for a discovery disclosure for all of the records, Thomas and Ruth Schadler's untruthful trial testimony went unchallenged. Their prior police statements were never entered or made part of the court's records. In four of the police reports, Thomas Schadler clearly stated that he did not pay any special attention to his assailant and in another one he clearly stated that he did not get a description of his assailant. Several newspaper articles collaboratedThomas Schadler's police statements. Mrs. Schadler stated in her police reports that she did not know what was happening until after everything was over. She even stated in another police report that the gunman was left handed and 5 feet 8 inches tall: Maurice is right handed and 6 feet 1 inch tall.

Without a weapon, a motive, any fingerprints, any positive identification, or any physical evidence to connect Maurice Carter to the crime, a carefully selected all white jury relied on untruthful testimony by the victims, Thomas and Ruth Schadler. The jury was unaware of the prior police statements they had made just after the crime had happened.

The attorney representing Maurice Carter made a lot of critical errors and without any doubt he was incompetent, Over Maurice's objections, attorney James K. Jesse was reappointed by Berrien County's Judge W. White to represent him again on appeal (Another tactic to cover up the hidden facts and the truth). The Berrien County prosecution knowingly used false information to get a warrant and they knowingly suppressed information and evidence which clearly indicated Maurice Carter's innocence.

Detective Al Edwards became Benton Harbour, Michigan's Chief of Police after Maurice Carter's conviction. Prosecutor John Smietanka became U.S. Western District Attorney General and he appointed policeman (victim) Thomas Schadler Chief Investigator for the Berrien County Prosecutor Office. James K. Jesse became one of the most grievous, worse trial and appeals attorney's in Berrien County, Michigan.

It was that kind of applied justice which manifested the wrongful conviction of Maurice Carter almost 22 years ago. The officials who are responsible for this tragedy will not admit to what they have done. Usually and most times that's how it goes until we as a people stand up for Justice and we make the criminal justice system correct the injustices which are brought to our attention. Certainly the Maurice Carter case needs our attention.

What can you do to help?

We want everyone to contribute to the Maurice Carter Defense Fund-c/o Bernice Brown, Defense Fund Coordinator, P.O. Box 216, Benton Harbor, Michigan 49022, USA (616-927-1527)

Benton Harbor, Michigan is 90% black, but the St. Joseph (Berrien County) Michigan Court system does not have any black judges or prosecutors. For the Maurice Carter case, we need a lawyer who understands the legal problems of approaching a system such as this: a system which is corrupt and unfair, especially towards blacks.

You can contact Terry Kelly, Editor for the Michigan Citizen Newspaper for more investigative information on the Maurice Carter case at: P.O. Box 03560, Highland Park, Michigan 48203, USA (313-869-0033)

We want you to write or contact: Mr. Robert Willis, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Div., 1840 Michigan Plaza, Detroit, Michigan 48226, USA and ask him to investigate the Maurice Carter case on Civil Rights Violations.

For more details, you can write directly to Maurice Carter- #145902, Brooks Correctional Facility, 2500 S. Sheridan Dr., Muskegon Heights, MI 49444, USA

 

Home