Friday, August 10, 2007

We Get Letters

Last month, I wrote a post about the release of Earl Washington, Jr. from Virginia's death row. Washington was coerced into confessing to a murder that another man, Kenneth Tinsley, committed. DNA evidence exonerated Washington and implicated Tinsley, who pled guilty to the murder earlier this year. My original post said:
The Commonwealth of Virginia this week attempted to right a wrong, and declared Earl Washington, Jr. innocent of a rape and murder that DNA evidence determined that he didn't commit. Even though this evidence was uncovered six years ago--and another man was convicted of the crimes--a special prosecutor in the case insisted for years that Washington was still a suspect. That's right--the prosecutor, James Camblos, would rather see an innocent man convicted than admit that he had erred in the case. (This might have something to do with the fact that Camblos once acted as a defense attorney for the real killer, Kenneth Tinsley). At one point, Washington was only days away from execution for a crime he didn't commit.
Today, a reader who calls himself Factchecker commented on my original post:
This would be a chilling story if our transitional fossil had bothered to check his facts and make sure what he was reporting was accurate. James Camblos was not the original prosecutor of Earl Washington. As a matter of fact Mr. Camblos wasn't even a prosecutor when Mr. Washington was errouneously convicted in Culpeper (not Albemarle where Mr. Camblos is the chief prosecutor). When the case was returned to Culpeper after Mr. Washington was released, Mr. Camblos was selected to special prosecute any potential retrial. It quickly became evident that the real suspect was Mr. Tinsley, a man that Mr. Camblos had defended when he worked as a defense attorney before his election to Commonwealth's Attorney. For Mr. Camblos to continue the investigation and prosecution would have been an ethical violation, so he appointed his deputy (Richard Moore) who then went on to successfully prosecute Mr. Tinsley. The only reason Mr. Camblos could not come out and declare Mr. Washington's innocence and Mr. Tinsley's guilt was his ethical obligation due to a conflict of interest from his previous job defending Mr. Tinsley on an unrelated matter. To have done otherwise could have resulted in disciplinary action against Mr. Camblos. I would suggest that next time you decide to besmirch a public official, that you at least check your facts before writing inflammatory rhetoric. This type of behavior is exactly why bloggers get a bad rap. If you are going to pretend to be a journalist, at least act like one.
First, I don't believe I've ever claimed to be a journalist; I merely comment on news items from other sources, and in this case, the sources were clearly linked. My original post does say that Mr Camblos was a special prosecutor, but incorrectly implies that the original error was committed by Camblos. This is not true--the original prosecutor on the case was John Bennett. I apologize for the inaccuracy, and I'll amend the original blog post to reflect the facts.

But Factchecker's comment prompted me to dig a little further into the matter. Again, I have no special knowledge of this case; I'm not a journalist--just a guy with a computer with access to Google. Here's an excerpt from an article from the Newport News Daily Press (summary here on the Daily Press site, complete article here):
Tinsley, who remains in prison on the rape conviction, is considered a suspect, said James L. Camblos III, an Albemarle County prosecutor who was appointed in August to review the case for state police. But so is Washington, he said this week, noting that he couldn't rule out that the two may have worked together. "There are a lot of crimes that are committed by more than one person, but you get physical evidence from only one of them," Camblos said.

Washington's lawyers dispute Camblos' theory of two attackers - before she died, Williams said she was attacked by a lone black man with a beard, according to police records.

Hall also criticized how state police were reviewing the case. Camblos once represented Tinsley as he appealed his rape conviction in 1985. When asked about his history with Tinsley, the prosecutor said he had no memory of it. Camblos removed himself from the case anyway, handing it over to his deputy, Richard Moore, this past week.
The date on the story is March 18, 2004, four years after Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore pardoned Washington. Indeed, as Factchecker states, Camblos stepped down from the case, but only after Washington's attorneys filed a suit to have him removed. Factchecker would have us believe that Camblos knew that Tinsley was the murderer, and was doing his duty as a defense lawyer by not proclaiming Washington's innocence; if that were so, it seems to me that a simple "No comment," would have been sufficient, and not a fabricated theory of how Washington might have been involved. But let us assume that Camblos, and Bennett, and all the police involved in Washington's trial and near-execution were acting in good faith. In that case, mistakes were made, and an innocent, but not very smart, man confessed to a crime he didn't commit. He was days away from execution.

And that was exactly my original point.


TenaciousK said...

What are you thinking man!

His name is "Factchecker"! Don't you go messin' with no "Factchecker" now. He's been checkin' facts and taking names for...

Oh wait - that's two profile views? And one of them is mine? Hmmm. Perhaps he oughta' go with a more accurate name. I suggest: Spinsetter. Or perhaps Browbeater.

No really, you just scored another one for the blogging world, Arch. When somebody goes through enough trouble to browbeat you with a little self-serving propaganda, you know you're onto something. It's amateur reporters such as yourself that make the rest of us more pedestrian bloggers proud.

[If you were wondering what kind of story to post on Wikifray, btw, this would be the very kind of story to post there. The followup alone is fascinating.]

In this particular case, I imagine it's difficult for a prosecutor to browbeat someone anonymous and removed, such as yourself. This is the best they could do. But if anyone ever demonstrated the chasm-like "niche" you "pseudo-reporter bloggers" fill, it was this hairy-knuckled fella' right here. If you were a reporter, you might do well to be looking over your shoulder.

Despite all the radical, unsupported fringe stuff one might find in cyberspace, sometimes blog news really is the best source of information.

You go, boy.

hipparchia said...

once again i can't find the link to something i read. i should give up this internet surfing thing.

anyway, there is a database and a study [more than one? can't remember] of cases of prosecutor misconduct. in at least one of them, the defendednt was executed and cleared by dna evidence sometime after his death. in several of the cases, the defendent has been cleared but ends up spending years in prison after being found innocent.

we just need to abolish the death penalty. nobody has really and truly and definitively shown that the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

meanwhile, we continue to execute the wrong people, which lets the guilty go free, among other evils. another evil an unintended consequence: the long long drawn-out wait from the crime to the execution, even when the right person is caught, is emotionally devastating for the victim's loved ones.

not so incidentally, these same loved ones, once the execution has taken place, often report that they didn't get the much-vaunted "closure" that they expected the death of the killer would bring them. instead, they often just have even more bad feelings.

TenaciousK said...

Hi Hipparchia!

You mean this one here?

Nice to see you, btw.

What I find fascinating about this is the "factchecker" response to Arch. Prosecutorial misconduct in death penalty cases? After hearing all the stories about things like - grossly underpaid defense attorneys, defense attorneys being repeatedly cited for being intoxicated in court, defense attorneys continuing to work on death penalty cases after being repeatedly reprimanded - well, I figure the prosecutors have to be, at the very least, in on the gig.

What I find fascinating in this case is the naked attempt to take the edge off Arch's post. I'd say he hit a nerve.

Don't even get me started on the death penalty. There is no justification for it, and a host against.

Archaeopteryx said...

Thanks for the kind words and support. Obviously, this wasn't really meant to be about Camblos--it's about the inherent injustice in the death penalty, and the Washington case is just an example of how wrong things can go. It's entirely possible that Camblos (and Bennett before him) thought they were doing the right thing, even though they weren't. But it seems awfully hard to justify blaming Washington for the murder after he'd been exonerated unless you were trying to deflect blame away from the original prosecutor. It's unconscionable.

Bite said...

Perhaps it takes a special kind of person to be a prosecutor.

Baltimor Aureole was a prosecutor

Ken Starr

Yep, a very special kind of person...

Thy Goddess said...



(Btw, bite: B_A used to be a stripper and now is a telemarketer. Gimme Coffee is/was a prosecutor...not that it matters...just fyi.)

Bite said...

Thanks TG

I hate to get my neocons mixed up!

Keifus said...

"Do you think there are crimes punishible by death?"

Yes, I could imagine conditions in which that sort of retribution was in order. Hell, I can imagine situation in which I'd want to kill somone.

"Do you believe in the death penalty?"

How could you ever be so sure?

A lot of reasons to oppose it. That's a big one, something about the benefit of the doubt--if you murder an innocent man, that's one hell of a sin, and what proof is so incontrovertable in court?

That, and somethign about how the state brings itself to murderer level when it commits "penalty."

Anyway, what's it take to get a heckler, huh?


hipparchia said...

heya, tk! you found it!

it wasn't your link here that i saw before [which has lots of good links in it, thanks] but this one:

harmful error
investigating america's local prosecutors

which was linked from your source. muchas gracias and mooches smooches for finding it.

Archaeopteryx said...

Keifus, that's exactly how I came around. I used to think that there were some crimes heinous enough (this one, for example) to merit the death penalty--I drew an analogy to a rabid dog, which you'd put down no matter how much you loved it. But executing one innocent person negates all of that.

Plus the illogic of killing a person in response to killing a person is inescapable. It's all about revenge (see the letter linked above), and not about deterrence. The state doesn't need to be in the revenge business.

Goddess--isn't it a shame that BA went from being in a very useful profession to a most useless one?

TK--I'll post it on the Wiki a little later today when I get time. I suppose that if your thoughtful, interesting pieces aren't going to be there any more, I can put up some hackish drivel to hold the space.