It don’t matter if you’re Black or White.– Michael Jackson, 1991
-Vern Braswell, 2020
Clearly he’s never been charged in a criminal case in Memphis, TN or anywhere in the deep south for that matter.
With the world beginning to see what Americans of African descent have experienced on a daily basis for years, there’s one place where gross racial injustices continue to take place on a daily basis. It’s a place that you can’t see on a viral video, on security camera footage, or on an officer’s body camera recording. The place is the courtrooms across America, specifically in the criminal appeals courts. This is where helpful evidence in Black cases often disappears, is withheld or suppressed by prosecutors, or isn’t given the same exonerating value as White cases And no one bats an eye.
In Tennessee, one Black case in particular was wrought with these types of errors. For years the Vern Braswell murder case did not get the same relief that White cases received when White cases had fewer and less significant errors. In Braswell’s case an eyewitness with a first hand knowledge was forgotten and left out of the trial, evidence disappeared from files, evidence along with parts of the court records vanished, prosecutors pretended that certain evidence never existed, witnesses were allegedly intimidated by the DA’s office, and White cases were granted relief and new trial orders when their errors didn’t come close to the magnitude of errors in the Braswell case. On many occasions, the same language used to deny Black appellants, was used to grant White appellants the relief they sought.
To show that it didn’t stop at Black defendants, in one instance in the Braswell case, one of his former attorneys, a young Black woman, spoke out against the prosecutor’s misconduct under oath. This resulted in her allegedly being blackballed by the DA’s office. This had the effect of running the practice she set up out of business and her being forced to leave town. This sent a clear message to other attorneys. Loyalty first, truth comes somewhere later down the line. If you go against the DA’s office and you are a young Black attorney, you might as well pack your bags and get your Black ass out of town. This DA was Trump before Trump was Trump!
ROUND ONE: Vern Braswell verzuz James Clayton Young
James Young was a White defendant with an erotic asphyxiation gone wrong defense similar to the Braswell defense and that‘s about where the similarities end. Young was charged with premeditated murder, murder in the perpetration of a rape, and unlawful disposal of a corpse. Before the Young trial was over, the judge changed the charges to second degree murder (talk about White privilege).
Clayton claimed, that in an effort to get aroused, he handcuffed the wrists and ankles of his heavily intoxicated partner, laid him on the floor face down, put a sock in his mouth, duct taped the victim’s mouth, wrapped a t-shirt around his head and neck, sat on his back, and began to ride him like a horse while pulling straight back on the shirt with both hands. After the victim became unresponsive, Young dressed him, “noticed that the victim had a cut on the back of his head”, put the body in a sleeping bag, went to work, got off work, put the body in his trunk, took it to a ditch, and returned home to clean up the blood (I know what you’re going to say. What Blood? There wasn’t supposed to be any blood).
Braswell on the other hand engaged in erotic asphyxia with his wife during asphyxiated, consensual sex. She was alive, although not felling well, when it was over and eventually died that night while in their Jacuzzi tub. Young engaged in erotic asphyxiation prior to intimacy, Braswell engaged in erotic asphyxiation during intimacy.
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeal Judges Wade, Welles, and Witt decided that Young had “eight relatively minor errors” that would not have made a difference individually:
– Two errors involved his recorded statement.
– One error was about his demeanor and another was about accusatory speculation.
– Two more errors dealt with an audio tape of Young’s interview and officers’ implications from the interview.
– Lastly, two errors were about his lifestyle and the prosecutor’s closing arguments about his lifestyle.
BUT they went on to say cumulatively these errors (when added together) placed doubt on the reliability of Young’s conviction.
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeal Judges Williams, Woodall, and Ogle determined that Braswell had three deficiency errors but said they didn’t matter.
– One dealt with a witness who had been an intimate partner of the Brawells and she gave first hand knowledge which totally corroborated Braswell’s testimony.
– She was left out of the trial because the attorney forgot about her.
– Another error, like the Young error, dealt with bad remarks the prosecutor made about Braswell during trial.
– One error was about a recorded conversation that was designed only to make Braswell look bad.
Then there were four more “possible errors that didn’t matter ” type errors:
– The trial lawyer didn’t hire an investigator and did not get any of the witnesses for Braswell who were willing and able to give first hand accounts to back up Braswell’s testimony. Thcsc witnesses testified on appeal.
– An expert the trial lawyer got at the last minute wasn’t prepared and the lawyer didn’t get an expert who during the appeal, backed up Braswell’s testimony.
– The trial lawyer did not question the prosecution expert, Dr. Joye Carter, about her past charges of manufacturing evidence for prosecutors to get guilty verdicts against defendants. She also perjured herself under oath.
– The trial lawyer didn’t call another lawyer who was willing and able to testify to show that the prosecutor repeatedly telling the jury that Braswell fabricated his defense during trial was inaccurate.
There were seven more mind blowing facts that the judges said were not errors:
– The trail lawyer had a chance to speak out against the prosecutor under oath for not giving him helpful evidence but he said he was “holding back” because he was concerned the prosecutor’s office might throw him in jail.
– The trial lawyer had the contact information on a security guard who had first hand knowledge of the Braswells’ activities at an adult club but he did not contact him to testify. He later testified on appeal.
– A trial lawyer promised the Braswell jury that there was another woman that Braswell practiced erotic asphyxiation with and he would produce her at trial. He did not do it, then he lied to the jury by saying that he did produce the witness, the prosecutor pointed out to the jury that the trial lawyer was lying to them.
– Braswell presented a copy of a cashed check to show that he paid the lawyer for an expert. The expert said he did not get paid. The lawyer was later disbarred for financial matters involving clients. This same judge ruled against the lawyer in a court case for lying about financial matters and clients. The lawyer produced no records that show he paid the expert. The judge placed the disbarred lawyer’s credibility over Braswell’s credibility in spite of the evidence.
– The prosecutor had knowledge of a woman who had been an intimate partner with the Braswells and whom could also likely backup Braswell’s testimony. The prosecutor did not pass this on to the defense lawyers and instead claimed that this type of evidence did not exist.
– The prosecutor painted Braswell as a wife beater. The prosecution had letters that showed that the Braswells used letter writing to solve their differences rather than arguing. The prosecution did not give this helpful evidence to the defense for trial.
– The prosecution hid Braswell’s trial file from one of his appeal lawyers for about two years. When she finally saw the file it contained a mysterious sealed manila envelope with instruction to not show it to the defense. After she asked to see the contents, it disappeared. This same type of envelope contained evidence of innocence in a different case and led to the defendant in that case getting relief.
Don’t forget, the judges said these were not errors!
The judges in the Young case said they were granting cumulative error relief “despite the considerable evidence of guilt. . .” because it was a “close question for this jury”. They said the main issue the jury had to decide was whether or not Young engaged in consensual sex with the victim and that the jury could have found him guilty of something else had it not been for those eight minor errors. TRANSLATION: let‘s give him another chance to see if he can get a better verdict from the jury.
The judges in the Black case never bothered to mention the central question that the jury had to decide in his case. The jury told the court the question they were asking themselves but the courts totally ignored it over and over again. After the Courts ignored the jury in the Braswell case, they said, because “of the strong evidence supporting Braswell’s conviction“ they were not granting cumulative error relief. TRANSLATlON: tsk tsk what a pity sometimes life can be so shifty.
White defendant: in spite of evidence of guilt, you get relief.
Black defendant: because of evidence of guilt, you do not.
God bless you.
Justice For Vern Braswell
& Black Defendants Matter
Please show your support for Vern being granted a Clemency release:
1) because of the injustices in his case
2) so he can continue working on his prison reform proposals and prison reform research and
3) because of his mother’s rapidly failing health
by clicking the link below to send an email to TN’s Gov Lee & the Clemency Unit. You MUST include your info in the email.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF VERN’S CASE
If you want to join Vern’s family in helping to get Justice For Vern please contact, follow, and visit at J4VernBraswell@afmfm.org
This was composed in conjunction with Black Defendants Matter. BDM is responsible for researching and publicizing the Braswell case.
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Originally posted here.
Reposted with minor edits and permission.
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