By EDDIE HATCHER
ROBESON, N.C.-Today, a trial ended in Robeson County Superior Court. This trial has already ended one time before. It ended last year in a hung jury. District Attorney Johnson Britt wanted to retry it.
Today’s trial also ended in a hung jury, but no one should be surprised. The trial started yesterday and it ended today. So, court convened yesterday at 9 a.m.; recessed for lunch at 12:30 p.m.; reconvened at 2:30 p.m.; and stopped at 5 p.m.
Today the lawyers gave closing arguments and the jury deliberated. So! That means the DA presented at the most, three hour’s worth of evidence and testimony in a murder trial. A murder trial which had already resulted in a hung jury.
An African American has lain in this gulag called the Robeson Detention Center and eaten tuna salad, hot dogs, and vanilla pudding three times a week for three years, through two hung juries for three hour’s worth of evidence. Boy, if that don’t speak volumes about the DA’s office in Robeson County, I don’t know what does. But hold on. There’s more.
Another murder trial is underway. It started Jan. 8, 2000, and has taken four weeks to seat a jury. This Native American man, who has absolutely no violent record, has eaten that same tuna salad, hot dogs and vanilla pudding-except he has eaten it five years instead of three. Since 1995, he has sat in this jail waiting for trial.
Then we have the case from last week where an elderly Indian man was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison for stealing a $125 worn-out garden tiller. It must have plowed a hell of a garden for someone. And I’d bet the farm that this poor soul is laying up at Central Prison right now wishing to God he’d robbed a country store and killed the witness instead of pushing that worn-out garden tiller a mile down the road.
Across the hall from me, there are the brothers and their friend. Each one of them is charged with about four felony counts of stealing a $75 bicycle. Each one of the three are charged with stealing the exact same $75 bicycle. They were told that they are facing 44 years of hard time.
Hold on! It gets worse!
There’s the old homeless man they picked up the other night. It was one of the nights that the temperature dropped into the low teens, and I guess he picked the wrong place to try and get warm. The cops ran a check on him and discovered a long-ago outstanding warrant against the old man for child-support money owed.
This old man’s children now have teenage children of their own. The deadbeat dad program is really working in Robeson.
Then we have the man down the hall. He is in jail on a simple misdemeanor charge and his bond is only $21. The bondsman will not go his bond because with a bond that low, they don’t make any money.
That’s why the magistrates here set bonds this low. They know that no bondsman will mess with it. So, every week, the poor old man sits here and spends $40 at the canteen for cigarettes and cake. Hopefully, someone will tell him he can take $200 himself and post his own bond before he serves a year on a 30-day charge.
These could be horror stories or comedy skits. Take your pick. But either way, they are frightening for those of us down here. In Robeson, having to live it. These are not isolated events. It’s a daily, weekly scenario.
In July 1999, Superior Court Judge William Gore was assigned to Robeson County for six months. In September, after just two months, he threw his hands in the air, ran from Robeson County, and was quoted in the Fayetteville Observer as saying, “the court system in Robeson County is essentially dysfunctional.” He called the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and reported that he’d never return to Robeson County. And he didn’t.
“Dysfunctional court system.” Is that similar to a dysfunctional family? I hope not ’cause I believe I come from one of those. Ain’t that the family where everyone is constantly fighting and raising hell with each other; choosing sides and breaking ranks without notice? A family that includes alcoholics, junkies, Bible thumpers, sexual deviants-brothers who are uncle and nephew yet they still say grace before every meal? I guess they are the same.
The chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Hon. Henry Frye, has known for a while about these problems in Robeson County. Most of the country has known about these problems in Robeson County. But Judge Frye is moving slower than my great-grandma Jacobs who was born before the Civil War and died after the Vietnam War.
Judge Frye was appointed to the position of chief justice by Gov. Hunt last year. Frye became the first African American chief justice in the state’s history.
When he became the first African American elected to the state legislature, he introduced legislation to stop the death penalty. So far as chief justice, he has refused to intervene in the state’s execution of the first and second African Americans since the death penalty was reinstated, even though serious questions were raised by reputable people, including white people, as to the guilt and trials of these two.
The white people spoke up. Henry Frye did not. And he isn’t speaking now about Robeson. I guess Judge Frye has that “don’t assist minorities” syndrome which many Indians and African Americans develop when a white man appoints them to powerful positions. They are so afraid of giving the appearance that they’re helping one of their own, they break their backs refusing to help.
I wonder if the “dysfunctional court system” and “DAM syndrome” are similar? But either way, us down in Robeson are basically screwed. Either way you look at it, we are being royally screwed.