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November 21st, 2021

New Orleans, Louisiana


It seems to be spreading like a communicable disease. And apparently there is no cure. Week after week, there are new reports of agents with the FBI engaging in premeditated acts of prosecutorial misconduct. Coaching witnesses to lie. Hiding evidence from the defense counsel that would favor the accused. And even calculated cover-ups that put a falsely convicted person on death row. Has justice run amuck? Has Lady Justice lost her way?

Just this week, we’ve learned that defendants who spent most of their life in jail were really innocent, and the FBI knew about it all along. Two of the men found guilty of the assassination of Malcolm X are expected to have their convictions thrown out on the Manhattan district attorney and lawyers for the two men said, rewriting the official history of one of the most notorious murders of the civil rights era.  The reason? The FBI had clearly knew that their case was weak and that there were a number of other persons that should have been investigated. But this evidence was hidden from the accused.

The New York Times also had a major story this week that was titled: “The Federal Bureau of Dirty Tricks.”  Presiding judge  Rosemary Collyer issued a  stinging rebuke of the bureau: “The frequency with which representations made by F.B.I. personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other F.B.I. applications is reliable,” she wrote. Withholding key information that might have a bearing on the outcome of the case? FBI agents who do this should be prosecuted fully under the law

Take a look at some of the stories about wayward FBI agents in major newspapers throughout the county. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette researched a 10-part story on this national problem. They summed up their findings by concluding: “Hundreds of times during the past 10 years, federal agents have pursued justice by breaking the law. They lied, hid evidence, distorted facts, engaged in cover-ups, paid for perjury and set up innocent people in a relentless effort to win indictments, guilty pleas and convictions, a two year Post-Gazette investigation found.”

A court ordered study concerning the botched trial of former Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens was finally released. Prosecutors had withheld key evidence and statements from witnesses that contradicted the government’s case and that would have found Stevens innocent.  A few weeks after his wrongful conviction, he was defeated for reelection. Stevens died in a plane crash shortly thereafter. A report ordered by the trial judge concluded there was definitely “intentional misconduct,” and the present U.S. Senator from Alaska is calling for the prosecutors to be fired and strongly sanctioned.  In my opinion they should be criminally prosecuted and lose their licenses to practice law.

A key part of the Stephens investigative report says: “Handwritten notes taken by an FBI agent “contained significant information that was never disclosed to Senator Stephens’ attorneys. “His own attorneys elaborated by saying that “Corrupt prosecutors obtained an illegal verdict”¦ and the report “provides evidence of government corruption that is shocking in its boldness and its breadth.”

There are interesting analogies here. The Stephens investigative report, the trial judge and the lawyers all have concluded that withholding an FBI agent’s “handwritten notes is “shocking,” and is a blatant example of prosecutorial misconduct. This reminds me of a Louisiana case some years ago where the FBI agent’s notes were withheld, and that led to the conviction of an innocent man. But prosecutors in the Bayou State have a habit of withholding evidence that would have cleared a defendant.  In the past year alone, three New Orleans cases have made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices’ concluded that convicting the innocent by withholding key evidence seems to be a way of life in many Louisiana federal and state courts.

In the notorious case of Dan Bright, convicted and put on death row for a murder he did not commit, evidence came out years after his conviction that the FBI, thanks to a credible informant, had been in possession of the name of the actual killer all along. Luckily for Dan Bright, because of the unconstitutional withholding of key evidence by the prosecution and the FBI, his conviction was thrown out, and he now is a free man ““ after 8 years behind bars, much of that time on death row.

Another death row victim out of New Orleans was John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row, even though the prosecutor who sent him to prison knew all along that he was innocent.  On his death bed, dying of cancer, this rogue prosecutor confessed to a colleague that he had, in fact, withheld key evidence that would have cleared Thompson. The fellow prosecutor who had received this confession waited three years to let the prosecutor’s office know the real truth.

Here’s how this week’s lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal summarized the problem.  “Something is very rotten at the U.S. Department of Justice. Americans hand prosecutors an awesome power.  We are seeing a pattern of abuse of this power, in order to win big cases.  Prosecutors should remember that their job is to do justice and not simply to beat the defense team.”

As the poet said many years ago: “It is just as well that justice is blind; she might not like some of the things done in her name if she could see them.”  There is much for Lady Justice to be concerned about today.

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com


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