an ordinary crime
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interviews: anne saker

A reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, she was assigned the Garner story six weeks after Garner was convicted. She talks about the "peculiar" aspects of the case, and the many ways it appeared to go wrong, either inadvertently or not.

What did you find when you started looking into this story?

I found some very curious contradictions in the whole case that made me curious about what the procedure had been to actually achieve the conviction; and then subsequently for the judge to decide not to grant him a new trial, even though someone else had come forward and had confessed to the crime.

What did you find peculiar?

I was particularly struck by why the system was so determined to make sure this one particular Terence stayed in prison and the other particular Terrance did not go to prison. The evidence was in. The jury had rendered a verdict in their opinion, and that was the end of the case as far as they were concerned. And I just found that a little peculiar.

Did you find Deloach's recantation troubling?

Oh, absolutely. How he came to recant was, to me, a fascinating part of the story. Here was a witness, one of the other men who had committed the robbery, going back down to his home county and called up the sheriff's department and said, "They've got the wrong guy. But I know where the real guy lives," and led the sheriff's department to Terrance Deloach, who seemed perfectly willing in the end to confess about his own role in the robbery at the Quality Finance office.And then, of course, the Johnston County authorities became involved and the SBI agents became involved, and they were very confused about how to respond to all of this. So suddenly the confession became a recantation. And yet, there's no written record of the recantation, and there's no tape recording of the recantation. So we don't really know what was ultimately said in that room between Terrance Deloach and the SBI agent.

What is your theory? What is your guess?

It's not uncommon for a law enforcement official to say something along the lines of, "You were mistaken when you thought there were four people in the office, correct?" And eventually the person who's being questioned gets the idea that there are certain things that he should agree to and certain things he should not agree to. Ultimately, that's often that's how a recantation or even a confession can be taken from someone.

Why one Terence over another?

I think we Americans have a charmingly nave view of our legal system,

That's an excellent question. And I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer out of anyone in covering this story for three years. The official story, of course, is that the jury rendered a verdict, and Terence Garner was the person who was convicted of this crime. And so anything that related to Terrance Deloach, as far as they were concerned, was kind of secondary to the jury verdict.If this had happened before the jury had rendered a verdict, I think we would have a very different outcome. But because it happened afterward, and in such a scrambled way, there wasn't much time to do anything else except to try and find a way to put Terence [away].

To what end?

To maintain the jury verdict, which was that Terence Garner committed this crime. And to the other ends, I can only guess that they did not want someone else to be tried and convicted of this crime. I think that's obvious.


Why they wanted to keep Terence Garner in prison? Well, the woman [Alice Wise] who was most grievously injured in this crime said that Terence Garner did it. And for a lot of jurors, a lot of lawyers, even though an eyewitness's memory can be very faulty, that's what people want to believe. "She was there; I wasn't; so she must be right." And juror after juror told me, "She was so certain, she was so sure," and that's what they relied on. And they didn't have any anything else to go on. They didn't believe anything Terence Garner said about his background or where he was that day. So they'd much rather believe her.

There was no expert at the trial on eyewitness testimony?

No. It's my understanding that, at first, the defense lawyer did not ask for an expert witness. I think Mr. Price believed that he had enough evidence to give the jury reasonable doubt. He had four people testify in Terence's behalf that Terence was 25 miles away at the time of the robbery and attempted murder, and the jury didn't want to believe that.

What about Mrs. Miller. The prosecutors left a powerful impression on the juror that Mrs. Miller was not reliable, that she had been hysterical at the time of the robbery

And this is one of the interesting wrinkles of the case. Here you have one witness, Miss Wise, who lost an eye in this attack and suffered brain damage in this attack. She didn't see Terence Garner for five months after the attack, and yet he was the one she identified.

But the other woman, [Mrs. Miller], who was also there, who knew Terence Garner, who could have positively identified him if he had been involved in this -- for some reason, she's hysterical. But the other woman who was damaged and injured ... was the one who could make the positive identification. So again, this is one of the peculiarities of this case.

What else bothers you?

The whole circumstances surrounding the arrest of Terrance Deloach and ultimately what they did with him. They sent him off to Dix Hospital for an evaluation and came back with an evaluation that was the most peculiar thing I think I've ever seen: a conclusion that this was a man who was sane enough to recant a confession, but was crazy enough to confess to something that he may or may not have done. So it was completely opposite what people normally look for in a case like this.The antagonism between the law enforcement departments in Johnston County and Wayne County was quite striking, because if there's one thing that's true, law enforcement officers work together; they have to work together. They depend upon each other and rely upon each other. So for the Wayne County detectives to do what they thought was right, and then to come to court later and be scolded by the judge for doing what they thought was right, was most peculiar.The judge's decision that Terence Garner did not deserve a new trial simply because the white witnesses believed him to be the person to have committed this crime, as opposed to all the other evidence suggesting that someone else did it, was peculiar to me, especially given that Judge Jenkins was a very experienced criminal attorney -- had been on the bench for a long time, and knew exactly what he was doing. ...Eventually the case was appealed, and both the Court of Appeals here in North Carolina and the Supreme Court decided there was nothing to look at here. Their view and their charge really is to look at how the law was observed in the trial, and they saw no flaw in how Judge Jenkins conducted the trial. So far as they were concerned, the evidence was not relevant. The law had been followed, and everything had been done to the letter. Therefore they did not see any reason to overturn the verdict.

They didn't see new evidence as new?

Judge Jenkins had a lot of the new evidence after the motion for appropriate relief or the request for a new trial was kind of incremental. The thing that was really going to do it one way or the other for Terence Garner was going to be if Judge Jenkins had decided that the presence of Terrance Deloach at least warranted a reexamination of the facts.Once he decided it did not, Terrance Deloach could not be brought forward again as evidence for a new trial. Once he decided that it was not relevant, the appeals courts could not then again bring it back in and say, "Well, perhaps this should have been done a different way." So it's hard after you have someone who confesses and then recants. Everything else after that was kind of add-ons, but not as explosive as actually having someone who confessed to the crime.

Still, you covered it?

I am curious about how the court system operates, in every form. It was just a fascinating study of what can go wrong and how it goes wrong. And how does the system respond when something goes wrong? At every turn in this story as I was following it, things just did not seem to add up to me. Conclusions were being drawn in ways that I did not understand.I'm not a lawyer; but I can read the evidence in this case. And it doesn't take a law degree to see that some things just did not add up. That's what kept me intrigued about the case, especially as it kept going up the appellate court system, and appeals court after appeals court refused to look at it.


The system protects itself, in the same way that doctors protect each other and lawyers protect each other; in some instances, the way journalists protect each other, lawyers and judges protect each other. And this was a case where there's this formalized system of judges overlooking each other's work. And unless there is something that in the legal world is called "shocking to the conscience," they are very reluctant...

What do you think is the truth?

I think the truth is that Terence Garner at least deserves a new trial. I think a jury of his peers ought to be able to look at everything and come to its own conclusion. To have all these questions floating out here, and the very real possibility that a very young man is going to spend the vast majority of life in prison, seems to me worth the time and money to find out if that's true.

One by one, could you list the things that went wrong, as you see it?

The first thing that was obviously a problem was not looking hard enough for Terrance Deloach when they were actually going out looking for the person who participated in the crime. They had Kendrick Henderson's description of a Terrance, who was Keith Riddick's cousin from New York. They knocked on one door and when no one came to the door, someone else in that posse that night said, "Oh no, I know of another Terence, let's go check that guy out."When they finally arrived at Terence Garner's apartment, he approached them. A 16-year-old boy approaches this group of police officers and says, "What are you doing here? What do you want?" When they asked him his name, he gave it to them.Now, I'm not a person who commits crimes, or at least tries not to. But if I had committed an armed robbery and had attempted to kill someone, I wouldn't be at my house. I would be a long way away. And so here is this kid, and no one seemed to think that was peculiar. Maybe it's not peculiar in Goldsboro, I don't know. But it seemed peculiar to me that this kid who approaches the police, freely identifies himself, tells them all the way to jail, "I'm not the one you're looking for."Then you have Kendrick Henderson's own description, "No, that's not the guy." He sees him in jail and ... that's all Kendrick Henderson has ever said, from the moment he was arrested: "That's not the guy. It's not the guy." All through the trial he kept telling the jury, "This isn't the guy." That, to me, should have ... might have set off some alarms; apparently [it] did not.There is the perjury that Keith Riddick committed that he acknowledged committing in court -- which was to accuse Terence Garner of being the third party. ... It was part of a plea agreement. He had failed his polygraph test and yet the prosecutor decided to put him on the stand anyway, knowing that there was going to be a problem; at the very least, there was a problem with this witness.The whole characterization of Bertha Miller as being hysterical or being unable to give a good description of the person had a whiff of sexism, at the least.

And then the whole question of where Terrance Deloach came from is another bizarre set of circumstances all unto its own, and how the court handled it.

Every time you turn around, there's something about this case that just isn't right. ... And that's not a moral judgment; that's according to the book. When you look at the law books, when you look trial procedure, there's just something not right about this. ...

Whose fault is this?

I think we Americans have a charmingly naïve view of our legal system, and that is we think that whatever decision that's made is right; or, at least, is done with the full knowledge of the facts -- that there is a determined search for the truth, and out of that comes the correct punishment or the correct outcome.And in many cases that's exactly what happens. I think in this case, there is so much human error, deliberate and inadvertent, piled on each other, layer upon layer upon layer, that after a while it's very difficult to tease apart what was a mistake, genuinely, and what was deliberately done to hide something else.I'm not good enough to be able to find my way through all of that. Even as I sit back here and look at the whole story in one piece, it's hard to know. I don't have anybody saying, "This was a giant conspiracy that started at A and ended at Z." Newspaper stories rarely come out that way.

Do you think it might have had anything to do with politics?

I'm sure that was a factor in some way -- how much, I don't know. Because by the time Terence Garner's trial began, the filing deadline had passed, meaning that both Judge Jenkins and Tom Lock had no competition either in their primary or... Well, no, Tom Lock had general election opposition, but it was minimal. Johnston County is a heavily Democratic county, and probably will be for a while. And Judge Jenkins was unopposed all the way through to November. So there was probably some political something in there, but neither one of them was facing much of a challenge

The DA, Lock, and Judge Jenkins are at peace with this case.

I think they have found a way to be completely at peace with this. I don't know how, but they have. I think judges and prosecutors in particular have to be able to compartmentalize things. I don't think it's because they're being cruel or hard. I think that they see a lot of hideous things that people do to one another in one way or the other, and they have to be able to put that aside and move on. Whether they should or not is someone else's judgment, but I think they have to do that as part of their job. Police officers, too.

What are your thoughts on how race might have entered into this case -- or not?

I think in some cases -- and this one perhaps in particular -- the racial question is so obvious that people kind of shove it to the back of their minds.

What they had there was, on the one hand, a woman who lived among them in their county, who was middle class. I think the thing that most affected them was the injury that she suffered. I think every single person in that jury thought about what it must have been like to lie on the floor of your place of business with your hands bound and over your face and someone pointing a gun at your head.And I think they took that and thought, "Well if someone is going to be that seriously injured, she must be right." There could be no doubt, because of course we all think when we're in that situation that we will never forget that face, that we will never forget who that person was. In fact, almost every eyewitness survey shows that, first of all, there's a racial disparity and secondly, when there's a gun involved, people look at the gun. They don't look at the face of the person who's holding the gun.So there's no doubt that she probably saw a face behind the person holding the gun, since that person was standing over her. But I think that face was probably very, very fuzzy to her for a long time, until all of a sudden it became very clear five months later. And that's what they believed. They want to be able to put this person who lives among them at her ease. They want her to know that they've put this person in prison and he will never hurt her again.And so I think that's really what was more at work than do we believe the white person or the black person. They wanted to believe the person who was hurt. I think that's what juries respond to more than anything else.

So did the judge.

And the judge as well, yes, and the judge as well. She [Alice Wise] lived there. Miss Bertha [Miller] lived in another county. That makes a difference in eastern North Carolina, it really does. It does make a difference where you come from, what county you come from, even what township you come from. So I think that much more what the jury responded to was this nice lady who was terribly injured, would never be able to see out of her eye again.

Terence Garner never seemed important.

No, he was charged with a crime, with a terrible crime. And they had a witness, so whatever he had to say was pretty irrelevant to anything that was going on there. It was a train that was leaving the station. He was a minor. He had a good trial lawyer. But arrayed against a witness who was certain and a jury who was predisposed to believe her, [there] really wasn't much they could do.

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