Bob Shell: Virginia Enters the Dark Ages

Old Antique shop and old pick up truck radford virginia
Antiques. Radford, Virginia. Photo: Anthony Colagreco, Copyright 2022

Last November, Virginia elected a new conservative Republican administration. The new Attorney General is Jason Miyares.

Last year, the AG at that time, Mark Herring, set up a new unit in the AG’s office called the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), because the administration finally realized that Virginia had far too many innocent people in prison.

The new unit went to work immediately on questionable convictions.
According to a study by the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper, about 15 – 18% of Virginia convictions are false. The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) admits to 5%. With approximately 30,000 people in Virginia prisons, that’s from 1,500 to 5,400 innocent people locked up in Virginia prisons, their lives destroyed.

The creation of the CIU gave us falsely convicted people a hope that the state wanted to redress its wrongs and set us free. I spent considerable time and money getting copies made of important documents in my case, and submitted it all to the CIU last year.

One of Miyares first acts upon taking office was to fire the whole staff of the CIU! This left cases in progress there hanging.  I wrote a letter complaining about this that was published on March 6 in The Roanoke Times newspaper. A communications officer from the AG’s office contacted the paper to demand a correction and say that the new AG had, in fact, expanded the CIU, renaming it the Investigations, Cold Cases, and Actual Innocence Project with all new staff under the direction of Theo Stamos, a prosecutor from Arlington, VA. Isn’t putting a prosecutor in charge of this new unit, which will now handle cold cases and investigations, like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse?

Why didn’t The Roanoke Times already know about this? Wouldn’t the AG normally send out a press release about such important news?
I recently got a letter from the Coalition for Justice in Blacksburg, Virginia. The situation is worse than I could have thought.
The Conviction Integrity Unit filed a petition for a Writ of Actual Innocence last year with the Virginia Court of Appeals for Terrance Richardson, a man serving a life sentence for the murder of a policeman, championed byAG Mark Herring.

After taking office new AG Miyares notified the court that the state had changed its position and asked the court to dismiss Richardson’s petition! Shouldn’t judging the merits of the 57 page petition prepared by the CIU and endorsed by the former AG be up to the court to decide?

Seth Shelley, one of the fired CIU attorneys, said, “My unit alone had 20 cases that were pending before the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Virginia. All of us are now gone.”

What will happen to those cases? Will Miyares ask the courts to dismiss them all, or just leave these people hanging with no attorneys anymore?
Should the AG, whose staff’s job is to oppose these cases, be able to fire the lawyers representing the petitioners?

Another fired attorney, Emilee Hasbrouck said, over the past year the CIU has helped two people get absolute pardons, as well as filing Richardson’s petition. She said these cases are thousands of pages long, with evidence spanning decades. She emphasized just how difficult it would be for new people to take over these cases.

Theo Stamos, appointed to take over the new unit, is a prosecutor from Arlington, and a woman. She has been criticized for her stances on bail and voting rights restoration. Miyares appointed her, so they must share common views. No one knows what she will do with cases already being worked on by the fired CIU lawyers. There have been no comments from Ms Stamos at all, and no further word from the AG’s office.

Somebody needs to do something about this! I knew we’d gotten a dictatorial didact in the AG’s office, but this is worse than we could have possibly imagined. The fired lawyers should sue to get their jobs back and continue to represent those people. Maybe they will lose some of those cases in court, but that is how the system is supposed to work. Our adversarial system of justice fails when attorneys on both sides of cases represent the same interests.

It is long past time that those of us who have been falsely convicted are given the opportunity to go before the high courts and be set free.

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 About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/hypnosis-good-or-evil/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com. Here’s the link:  

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