As Promised, the trial and aftermath
After almost two weeks of thinking about what the good Judge Kittrell did about the phony “Interference with Custody” charges brought against me in 2013 and which I’ve fought since then, I’m going to try and put a little something in print.
Let’s start out identifying the players first.
The legal guru’s:
Judge Braxton Kittrell, presiding judge;
Stephanie Billingslea, lead prosecutor;
Leigh Gwathney, assistant prosecutor;
Richard Chris King, defense attorney
Terry Thomas Gray
Lloyd Johnson, EPD Sgt.
Mike Ellis, Former Chief Investigator City of Evergreen
Renee Rogers, Retired DHR worker
Lydia Thorton-Jones, School Bus Driver
James Leon Windham
THE STATE OF ALABAMA VS. JAMES LEON WINDHAM. Read that again. Just think, the whole State of Alabama is coming after me. Pretty scary if you take time out to think about it. Just one of me to fend off the entire state.
In 2013 I was charged with Interference with custody when I took two children that had been dropped off at the Conecuh County Animal Shelter to their mother. The father of these children, Terry Thomas Gray, was an employee of the county and worked at the animal shelter as did my wife, Tess. In January of 2013 Gray had been counseled by the commission chairman, David Cook that he must find some other place for his children to be in the afternoons, the animal shelter could not be used as a baby sitting facility. As you can probably figure out Chairman Cook, with his typical leadership inability failed to follow up on the Gray children situation and things actually escaladed to the point Gray set up a special bus route whereby they were dropped off at the shelter.
On 8 April 2013, 94 days after Gray was told to find a new place for his children to be in the afternoons, the school bus dropped them off at the shelter with Gray nowhere to be found. My wife and I called the county administrator, the immediate overseer for the shelter and told her of the problem. She stated she would try to locate Gray. My wife loaded up some personal items she had taken to the shelter to make life easier on the animals and I called the administrator back. There was no answer from her so I called the receptionist and asked for Ms. Covan. I was informed she was on the phone. I told the receptionist we were taking the children to their mother at Burger King on Liberty Hill Drive, a distance of two miles. I then called the Commission Chairman, Do-nothing David Cook, and told him the same.
I did indeed take the children to their mother and on Friday 12 April 2013 I was arrested for Interference with Custody for my efforts of not leaving two minor children alone in this dismal world. Now here we are 4 years and 7 months later and I’ve finally been exonerated. This comes only after I’ve spent many thousands of dollars for something that should have never made it into a courtroom but because a couple of commissioners wanted to flex their power and an appointed District Attorney wanted to have his “own” term in office I got railroaded into this mess.
Judge Braxton Kittrell, a retired circuit judge from Mobile worked with us to convene a jury and the re-trial began at 1:30 PM.
I say re-trial because that’s exactly what it was. The results of the initial trial in which I was found guilty was overturned when I proved there were illegal jurors in my jury. I tell folks that the prosecution, which was the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, the infamous Luther Strange, was in such a hurry to hang me they actually stacked the jury with non-qualified ringers. Mr. Strange sent an assistant attorney general by the name of Stephanie Billingslea to conduct the persecution of me.
I’ll be writing more on this whole episode later so don’t worry; I’ll bring you up to speed then.
As I said, Judge Kittrell got the trial underway at 1:30 PM with the prosecution calling their first witness; the former father-of-the-year and now awaiting trial for Rape in the 2 Degree, better known as Statutory Rape, Terry Thomas Gray.
Gray took the stand and did what he is so well known for and that is telling lies. His testimony during the first trial was nothing but lies bought into, in my opinion, by the all black jury simply because the black prosecutor seemed to be representing him. His testimony this time was no different. How does the old saying go, how can you tell if he’s lying, it’s easy, his lips are moving.
The prosecution was first to go and Billingslea and Gray laid it on thick, however, the defense’ gets a turn to play. Mr. King started to question Gray and, just as I’d told him, Gray has a complex whereby he must show how much smarter he is than any lawyer that might be asking him questions.
I sat back and watched the judge and jury as Gray attempted all his smart aleck maneuvers toward answering the questions. Gray got so confused I don’t think he ever realized just how many different stories he was telling as he was questioned. I could actually see the disbelief in the judge’s eyes and the juror’s weren’t looking too impressed either. One thing Gray testified to under oath was that on the day of the incident DHR had contacted him and directed that he take a drug test. (This will be just one of the lies he told during his testimony.)
I had asked a couple of people to observe the reaction of the judge, jury and others during the questioning of the witnesses, just to give a feed back to work around where we were and where we needed to be. The people I had doing this told me later that Terry Gray looked exactly like the fool he is with his smart aleck attitude and actions.
Next witness for the prosecution was his son, Corey Gray. Corey was 9 years and 4 days old when the incident happened and is a true protégé of his father. Whatever comes out of his mouth is what his father put in his head. Again the prosecution questioned him about how scared he was and how abusive I’d been, etc.
Mr. King started questioning this now 13 year old and things turned surly and defiant almost immediately. I couldn’t help but remember Terry Gray’s remarks about how he’d brought his children up to respect their elders during the last round. It wasn’t long after my attorney started questioning him that everyone in the courtroom had the opportunity to see that respect for elders flare up. During the midst of questioning Corey responded “What business is that of yours?” to one of the questions. I was looking at the judge when that happened and a look of disbelief came over his face, his eyes rolled back and quite quickly Corey was told the do’s and don’ts of answering questions in court. Yep, a sign of the great teaching job you’ve done Terry, lots of respect there.
Sergeant Lloyd Johnson of the Evergreen Police Department was next. Sgt. Johnson was the officer who responded to the first call Terry Gray made on the morning of 8 April 2013 when I was supposed to have pulled a gun on him. Sgt. Johnson admitted he had responded to the animal shelter twice that day on calls from Terry Gray, once to take down his story and once upon the return of my wife and I from lunch. Personally I don’t know how he responded to a call from Gray about our return considering he was sitting in the parking lot when Tess and I returned from lunch. He readily admitted I granted him permission to search both myself and my car for a gun where no gun was found. Sgt. Johnson also stated he had told Terry to leave the area and try to avoid contact with me.
Again the good guys come out for their turn at questioning this officer. Sgt. Johnson appeared confused and dazed even though he was allowed to check his notes and refer to them though out the questioning by both parties. My attorney questioned Sgt. Johnson about him telling Terry to leave and a few other issues. Sgt. Johnson told my attorney that “Terry only went down to the health department to wait for the school bus and to get his children.” My lawyer’s next question dealt with how Sgt. Johnson knew this, did he go with him, did he observe him there, and just how did Sgt. Johnson know this? Finally Sgt. Johnson admitted the only way he knew this was because Terry had told him so. When Sgt. Johnson left the stand I think he was so confused he couldn’t tell if he was wearing trousers, a skirt or a kilt.
Sgt. Michael Ellis, the former Chief Detective for the City of Evergreen, was next. I was informed after this trial that Chief Detective Ellis had lost his position as Chief Detective due to incompetence. Say something nice about Mike Ellis, OK, I will. He had a good daddy, end of story.
Mike Ellis, in my opinion, has about as much business being a chief detective as an elephant has with a pilots licenses. I guess that’ll let people know where he stacks up on my Christmas mailing list.
Just like the previous trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence a statement I’d made on 11 April 2013. They brought out paperwork showing I’d waived my Miranda Rights and had volunteered to give the statement. No sense denying the truth, I did that. The prosecutor asked Ellis a bunch of questions about the statement I’d given and the answers were contained within the statement. Now one thing about this statement, it was hand written by Ellis and he is not a literary giant nor does he comprehend spell check.
On cross examination by my attorney who continued to ask Ellis about my statement, Ellis spoke up and stated “he had a video recording of my statement.” My lawyer then asked if it was videoed why are we working from his handwritten, hard to comprehend and read notes taken by Ellis.
My attorney then asked the judge to order Ellis to bring the video to court the next morning. The judge did order Ellis to produce the video for the next day.
Time to break for the day and go home. We (the defense) certainly had something to look forward to the next morning. A video tape made over 4 ½ years ago and had never been put in evidence.
Tuesday morning and we resume. The prosecution called for Ms. Renee Rogers, former DHR employee to take the stand.
Mr. King stated that we had unfinished business from the previous day and reminded Judge Kittrell he had ordered Ellis to bring the video. The judge asked for the video, and guess what? We got the old story about the dog ate my homework. In other words, there was no video to be had. Ellis went on to try and explain that the computer it had been on for almost 5 years had gotten a virus and it had destroyed the evidence. He went on to say in a lower tone, the virus was introduced to the computer by “someone” having gone to a porno site on the internet. I later found out that the computer was housed in what was then “Chief Detective” Ellis’s office. An office that no one else had a key to therefore the question arose in my mind, just who was watching the porn on the computer and why had no copy of it been made to help preserve this valuable evidence?
People, who knows what bearing that video might have had on the outcome of the first trial had it been known that it existed and if it had been made available. Ellis certainly wasn’t helpful in the first trial considering he failed to safeguard a tape from Burger King that I specifically requested he retrieve and protect. Not only that but he failed to get the recording from the school bus the children rode that day.
Exculpatory evidence is what the tape would be called and I should have known about it from the time discovery had been requested in October 2013. The fact it had been in Ellis’s care and now no longer existed or was not available the legal term of spoliation comes into play.
Exculpatory evidence is evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial that exonerates or tends to exonerate the defendant of guilt. The spoliation of evidence is the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, fabricating, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding. Talk about Ellis’s incompetency in one breath and prove it in the next.
Are you starting to get the picture that what I said about this being a political, set-up, trumped up deal might be true?
The next prosecution witness was Renee Rogers, retired DHR worker that Tess and I spoke to on the day we transported the children to their mother.
Billingslea questioned Ms. Rogers about the report we gave that afternoon. Billingslea stated that I had made remarks about the children being abandoned during my report. Ms. Rogers quickly set her straight saying we had never used the word abandon, that we reported the school bus had dropped the children off and Gray was not there. The crowning touch was when Billingslea asked what type of investigation was conducted based on our report and Ms. Rogers told her she had spoken to her supervisor asking what she wanted to do. Ms. Rogers went on to say that her supervisor informed her there would be no investigation, the primary item of interest here was the safety of the children and we had delivered them to a “safe haven,” their mother. Again I saw Judge Kittrell get a look of disbelief on his face.
Mr. King, my attorney, had but a few questions for Ms. Rogers. He asked her if DHR had talked to Gray that day and if so, had they directed him to get a drug test. Ms. Rogers stated that they had not talked to Gray at all and he had not been ordered to get a drug test on that day. When she was advised that Gray had testified DHR had told him to get a drug test Ms. Rogers stated that Gray may well have been told by DHR to take a drug test but it was not on that day. Note that once again Gray is caught in a lie.
Last witness for the prosecution was Lydia Thorton-Jones, the school bus driver.
Ms. Thorton-Jones’ testimony really had no bearing on the case other than to note that Terry Gray again had falsely testified about when he first contacted her to inquire about where his children were. He testified that he had tried to flag her down as she came by the Health Department. She testified the first time she had seen him was when he pulled up beside her bus in front of Cherries Blossoms and Blooms on Front Street.
That was that and the prosecution rested their case.
Judge Kittrell directed the defense to call their first witness whereupon Mr. King advised the judge he had some motions to be heard before calling any witnesses. The judge directed the jury be removed from the courtroom so the defense motions could be heard.
Attorney King submitted a motion that the charges be dismissed and, along with that motion he submitted case law showing that no crime had been committed.
The prosecution, both Ms. Billingslea and Ms. Gwathney, argued strongly against dismissing the charges. Judge Kittrell asked them a hypothetical question consisting of, “If I am driving home and see my neighbor’s two children walking and I stop and pick them up, will I be arrested?” Billingslea and Gwathney both responded with an immediate “no.” The judge then asked them why not, had he not done the same thing I had done? The prosecution, falling all over themselves responded by telling him “Oh no, it’s completely different than the Windham situation.” The judge responded that it was the same as my situation, there was no difference other than he was not me.
The judge then asked them if he dismissed the case could they file an appeal. The prosecution responded with an immediate oh yes. Judge Kittrell then said, “This case is dismissed.”
Both Billingslea and Gwathney looked as if all the wind in their sails had just been knocked out. They redoubled their efforts trying to get the judge to reverse his decision. Finally Ms. Billingslea asked if they could have a few minutes to call their appellate division, stating they were not appellate lawyers, they were prosecutors. I couldn’t help but notice Ms. Gwathney was in tears but I’d seen her cry before in Andalusia when Judge McKathan reversed my first trial due to improper and illegal jurors being seated. I don’t think she takes defeat easily and based on what I’ve seen, perhaps she should seek a different profession.
Judge Kittrell responded to her question about calling the appellate division with “Call anybody you want, this case is dismissed.”
Finally, what a relief. Someone actually saw through the lies Terry Gray told and the rest of it just fell into place. Almost 5 years of hell behind me with just a few words.
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a few notes about how things have changed in people’s lives since that first day:
David Cook, one of the commissioners who wanted to get me out of the picture, was a one term wonder as commissioner. He lost his district to Michael Riley who is obviously twice the man Cook could ever hope to be
Johnny Andrews, the second commissioner that wanted to get at me is still in office but faces 6 counts of distributing drugs which could earn him a total of 60 years in prison. I have reason to believe the only reason he hasn’t gone to prison yet is because the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are working him to give up some other crooked fish in the pond.
Terry Gray is awaiting trial for Rape in the 2 Degree. Amazing how hardly anyone knows this considering my face was all over the Evergreen Courant when my arrest came up. By the way, Rape in the 2 is better known as statutory rape. Gray was having relations with a 14 year old girl, a girl that he can’t say he didn’t know her age considering she went to school with his son.
Let us touch base on one other person, the person that called my lawyer telling him she would sink my boat if we caused her to have to go to court. The person who cursed the officer who delivered her subpoena as if he was nothing more than a low life scum sucker instead of an officer of the court doing his duty. The same person who is no longer employed at Southern Pine because of some disappearing money.
As you look at the group of people that aligned themselves to try and take me down please notice which one of us still has a little integrity.
There will be more to come. I intend to write a complete narrative of what has transpired at a later date.