Tag Archives: death row

Waiting for the Judge

sc0038927aWhile we waited for the court’s decision on the appeal that would vacate John Lee’s sentence, he talked to me about his life. Not in any organized way, just a memory here, a memory there, in the patchwork way we all remember our lives.

He told me how he used to take a line of children to the playground holding to a rope, one behind the other with him in the lead. “To keep them safe crossing the roads,” he said. And how they played so hard and got so tired he’d have to bring the little ones back home cradled in his arms.

“What children?” I asked. “From one of the group homes?”

“Nah, nah, that was in ’91, just before I came down here to North Carolina. I was a grown up man when I was doing that. I was living in DC with a girl called Debra. Known that girl all my life. Wanted to marry that girl. If she’d married me I’d have stayed up in DC, never would have got into this predicament.”

“Why wouldn’t she marry you?”

“‘Cos she knew how much I wanted children of my own, make a family, you know, all of that, and she couldn’t have any.”

“It’s quite a responsibility, taking care of other people’s children. The mothers must have really trusted you.”

“O’course. All the mothers loved me. I used to do jobs for them, all sorts of jobs, clean the house, babysit, painted one old lady’s house. The young single mothers were always after me to babysit so they could go off to the clubs.”

“They paid you?”

“What you talking about, paid? They had no money, I just did it.” He shrugged. “I guess I just love little kids. So I took them to the playground. I’d love to have a child of my own,” he says, and then he sighs. “Maybe if I’m lucky with the judge . . .”

Sixteen Years of Appeals

A number of people have asked why it took sixteen years for John Lee’s conviction to be vacated. The reason is multifaceted, but here is a nutshell explanation.

When a man (or woman) is sent to death row, he receives legal assistance in the form of a state-appointed attorney who appeals the conviction on his behalf.

Only Death Row inmates get this assistance and the attorneys are paid significantly less than their normal fee. Some make sincere efforts despite this, others drag their feet. Different attorneys may represent the inmate as the years go by.

For an appeal to be successful, the high bar of a constitutional violation must be met. Not just identified, but accompanied by conclusive documentary evidence.

Time, sometimes years, is expended in investigation and discovery, preparation of the appeal document (called a Motion for Appropriate Relief) and filing with the court. Once the appeal is filed, the wait begins for a decision. This can also take years.

As appeals are rejected for one reason or another, a new appeal is filed with a higher court in this order:

1. NC Appellate Court
2. NC Supreme Court
3. NC Middle District Court
4. Fourth Circuit Court, Richmond, VA
5. US Supreme Court

After rejection by the US Supreme Court, the only recourse is to request the governor for a last minute stay of execution.

In John’s case, his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated. Juror Number 1 was the double first cousin of one of the co-defendants who testified against John Lee. This juror was well aware of the relationship, had a heated confrontation with his daughters and other family members over it, but still he hid it from the court.

This may sound a simple thing to prove, and indeed it was, but for fourteen years not one of John Lee’s lawyers went out and got the documentary evidence necessary for an effective appeal.

Just before I met John Lee, this had finally been done. Juror Number 1 was now deceased, but John Lee’s latest lawyer had procured affidavits from his family establishing the relationship and surrounding circumstances.

The new appeal was filed a month before I met John Lee in December 2006. We waited together, he in a state of extreme tension, for two more years.

Then, early one cold October morning in 2008, as I was preparing to drive to Raleigh for my weekly visit with John Lee, his lawyer called asking me to pass on to him the two words he had been waiting sixteen years to hear: “We won!”

The Justice for John Lee Fund

sc0038927aThe JUSTICE FOR JOHN LEE fund is dedicated to raising contributions to provide for the legal and associated costs of John Lee Scott (né Conaway), one of North Carolina’s innocents, in the pursuit of his freedom.

This blog will be our means for telling John Lee’s story and building support for justice.

Please read the “About John Lee” page to learn the basic elements of John Lee’s case.  On the “Advisors to John Lee” page, you will see the growing team of supporters assisting John Lee to obtain his freedom.

In the coming days we will also be adding a list of donors to the Justice for John Lee Fund so that you can see the wide support which John Lee is gaining.

Learn John Lee’s story and join us in seeking justice by donating as much as you can.  Just click the “DONATE” button above.