Interview: Clarence Aaron

Clarence Aaron
A 23-year-old college student, Aaron received three life sentences in a drug conspiracy trial based on the testimony of informants.

Either tell the truth, probably go to prison for the rest of your life, or lie, cooperate with the government, do whatever it takes to get a lesser sentence. Which sounds better? How did you get involved in this plot?

Because I hooked up two friends of mine. I had some friends out of Mobile, and they was in some type of drug activities, and I met some guys out of Louisiana that I became friends with, and I found out that they was into some type of drug activities. So me going back and forth from college home, I used to talk about these guys. They'd had nice cars and thing like that, and I thought that they might be dealing some type of drugs or something like that. So one particular day, my friend Robert called me at Louisiana to ask me, could I introduce the two parties? I said, "Yes." He say, "Well, if you can introduce us, I'll get you fifteen hundred dollars, if you can introduce us we can come to some type of agreement." I said, "Oh, I have no problem with that." So I got in touch with Gary and told Gary that my friends out of Alabama wanted to meet him. He said okay. ... [so I] took Robert over to Louisiana to meet Gary. ...

Were you involved in trafficking?

Not directly. But I was involved because I had introduced the two parties and the two parties didn't know each other well enough to trust each other. ... Neither party trusted each other so I had to be there just to smooth the way between the two parties... .

So you were involved?

Somewhat I was, yeah. The only thing I can see I was involved in was introducing the two parties. As far as them making some type of transaction, whatever they wanted to get from each other, I don't know, but I did introduce the two parties ... .

If you were involved, why are you complaining?

Why? Because I felt that I received too much time. I got charged with things that the other guys in my conspiracy did not get charged with. I'm the lowest end of the totem pole. Only thing I did was introduce the two parties, and I got charged with the most of everything. I got the most time out of everybody.

What did the others get?

Robert got five to seven years, I think Tino got between 12 and 14 years, and Gary got 20 years. James, my cousin, he got no time. Probation. Nothing. He just walked straight out of the courtroom.

Why did they pick on you?

Why? Because during the time that I got incarcerated and prior to trial, I think they wanted me to cooperate, but I ain't have nothing to cooperate about ... . The only thing I did know was that I introduced the two parties, I felt that both parties did have some type of activities, but that's as far as I could give them. I couldn't give no name, no places, none of that and so ... what could I do?

Your friends conspired against you?

I feel that my biggest mistake was if I never post bond at the county jail, maybe everything would be different because I would have known then that they were conspiring to put everything on me. They had to find somebody [to be] the scapegoat. They had to find somebody to ... point the finger at ... to get [their] time reduced, and I was that person. I had a clean record in college at the time, [the] semester just starting, the jurors granted me bond with a lot of stipulations, so I didn't get a chance to know what exactly was going on until trial, until I heard them testify on the stand ... .

How did you feel when you heard their testimony?

More hurt than anything because these are friends of mine and I couldn't believe the things that they were saying about me ... . They made me seem like I was the kingpin or something, [that] everything that went on, it was because of me. Which was not true.

Why did they do that?

I don't know. I hadn't had an opportunity even to talk to none of them ... . I had no idea what was going on because I was out on bond and I was in two states over in Louisiana in school at the time. They was in Alabama getting with one another, trying to get their stories to corroborate. ...

What was it like having your friends testify against you?

Well, we're sitting in the courtroom. These guys that I knew all my life came up, and they said [stuff] about me that wasn't true, and they hurt me. It really truly hurt me, Robert and James really hurt me 'cause James is my first cousin. I looked up to him all my life. Robert was supposed to be my best friend at the time. We grew up together from playing Pop ball all the way up to high school ball together, and I couldn't believe that they would sit there, in front of me ... and say the things that they said about me ... . [The] only thing I could say was it wasn't true. But nobody believed me ... . You had to have a fall guy, and I was that person.

How much money did you make?


Was it worth it?


Tell me about James, your cousin.

James. I think James called me or something. I don't remember exactly how that went, but he called me and told me that the prosecutor wanted to talk to me and I said, "Talk to me about what?" And he say, "Well, I done went down here and I talked to them and I think they want to talk to you now." So at this time I'm in school. I don't know what's going on. So I tell him I don't have nothing to talk to him about because I don't know what's going on. And that's the last I heard about that. Then later, James [testified] in the first trial ... and the majority of stuff he did tell [was] true. Like who [was] there, we was going to have some fun -- which we was, you know, just like a weekend out. He didn't see no drugs. He didn't see no money. Nothing like that. He didn't see me have no drugs. Nothing like that. But see, when he testified to that, which was true, the prosecutor got mad with James and pulled him out of the courtroom and told him ... she was going to get him, she was going to get him life without [parole]. She threatened him, or I don't know. But all I know is from that point on, James got real scary ... . I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him, "James, is Miss Griffin, the prosecutor, holding something over your head?" And he would never admit to it ... . He said, "Man, I had to do what I had to do."

Which is what?

He said he had to go in there and lie to the jury. He went in there and told the judge that he talked to [my attorney], Bob, prior to me retaining him and told him some things that ... he could use against [James] in trial, so it was a conflict of interest ... . So at this time they declared a mistrial and take Bob as my attorney. And now I can't use Bob as my attorney ... .

So James hurt you two ways.

Yes. He hurt me by taking the first attorney I felt that I had a chance with, and he hurt me again by getting on the stand and telling them lies against me, and putting me in things that I wasn't into.

Why did he do it?

Well, I had a opportunity to talk to James one time ... . He said, "Man, I'm sorry, man." I say, "James, why you do me like that?" He say, "Because I had no choice." I said, "What you mean you have no choice in the matter?" He say "Because Miss Griffin say she didn't want Bob to try your case." She say if [he] didn't cooperate and do what she told him to do, that she was going to hurt him worse in his case ... . He say, "Well, the prosecutor Miss Griffin said if I don't do it she going to put me in prison for the rest of my life ... . I got to do what I got to do."

Are you mad at him?

Yeah. At first I had mixed emotions about James, this is somebody I looked up to all my life ... . He got up there and did that to me on the stand, James ain't never even wrote me. Even try to contact me. Never acting ... concerned about my whereabouts since I been gone. I've been [gone] five years ... but now this come about, with FRONTLINE ... and he had opportunity to try and make some type of amends with me. Even though that ain't going to make no difference, he could have had a chance to speak out and not be afraid. But he went and hide. So he showing me now he have no love for me never ... .

Why didn't you make a deal?

Miss Griffin [and] I have never even actually sat down, I ain't never even talked to Miss Griffin, the prosecutor. Only person I ever talk with was my attorney, so if they say they tried to get me to cooperate, I don't know nothing about it. I think one time my attorney came to me and said that, "Take a plea bargain and cooperate," or something like that, but I told him, "What am I going to cooperate to? I don't know nothing" ... . I guess they felt I knew more than I did.

If you knew, would you have talked?

At the time it all happened, I don't think if I wanted to cooperate at the time I could have. I don't know, something inside of me wouldn't let me cooperate, get with her and conjure up some ideas about some other guys or whatever she wanted me to ... I don't know. It was just something about this whole situation wouldn't let me do it. Now I don't know. Now with me being in the system, know how the system is today, maybe I would have took a plea bargain. Maybe things would be different now.

Even if you had to lie?

Even if I had to lie ... .

Where did the nine kilos come from?

... There wasn't no drugs to be seen. Ain't nobody got no drugs. So I don't know how they came by [that] number. I guess nine was a round about fat number, I don't know. I'm the only one got charged with this amount ... .

It never existed?

No. I never had it.

How did you see your future before this?

How did I see my future? I seen myself graduating from college, maybe even going on and have a career in football ... but I [wasn't] really focused on that. And going out and getting me a nine to five, getting into corporate America, one day, probably own my own business ... . You know, sit down and try to be a productive citizen, prior to all this happening ... . My life just got all turned upside down one summer ... . Maybe I lost focus somewhere. I don't know. Maybe this whole thing needed to come about. Maybe I needed to regain focus somewhere. But I would never in my true life [have thought] that they would have gave me three life sentences running concurrent ... .

Life to a 20- year-old boy...

Yes. I couldn't believe it, you know. My family couldn't believe it. Today I still can't believe it. ... I was 20 years old ... a life sentence. I ain't even seen life. I had to strive my whole life to stay out of trouble. I ain't never even have a traffic ticket before ... . You going to give me life, but give all the other guys three years, five years ... .

And they were the dealers.

Two or more convictions already on their case. I was a student athlete. I was trying to manage my books and going to practice. Being at practice every day. Trying to do something positive for me and my family ... .

And the real drug dealers are out --

On the street now. And probably doing the same thing they were doing before they went in. I just don't understand.

What sentence did you deserve?

I felt I should have got no more than Robert, Chris, or even James. My part was lesser than Robert's was, and Chris' was. And they're at home right now. Yeah, I am guilty of something. I am guilty of hooking up the two parties, and I knew that both parties was in some type of drug activities, yes, but about selling drugs ... I ain't had nothing to do with that ... . I thought I shouldn't have got no more even than the minimum of probation, the most boot camp or five years in prison ... . Thirty years to life? No ... .

Are you proud you didn't cooperate?

I feel good about myself because I don't have nobody's blood on my ass. I didn't have to lie ... I didn't tell on nobody, and ... conjure anything to put somebody in. Take him away from their family. No. I'm just happy that I didn't hurt nobody else. But proud, no. I'm not proud. Because I miss my family every day.

How did it affect your family?

It tore my family apart ... . They still hurt by this. My father, my mom--because James is my father's sister's son, so I know [she] has some hatred because of what he done to me, my mom. She definitely don't like it. She's sick about the whole situation ... . I ain't even talk to my other side of the family no more. They don't write me and I don't write them. I don't hear from them. I ain't even heard from James. ... At one time we were one close knit family, now a whole lot changed ... .

You have friends here?

Yes, I do have friends here, yes.

Do you talk about your case?

One rule of thumb, you do not discuss your case unless you discuss it with somebody that's trying to help you ... . 'Cause it's so easy now to conjure up a case against somebody. ... Conspiracy law is just too vague, for one, not to even get caught, no surveillance tapes, no telephone conversations, no money, no drugs. No nothing. You ain't got nothing but my word against somebody else's word, so what makes somebody else's word better than mine? ...

Do you see a lot of prisoners snitching to reduce time?

Every day. That's day to day life here. People, by any means, now, is trying to go home, so the best thing they can do ... is try to come up with some type of case against somebody else to try and get time reduction ... . You got guys that leave here every month, go out back testify against somebody. ...

How do people in prison view snitches?

People don't like snitches nowhere. ... You got so many in the system now, though, they hang out with each other, you can't get around them. ... One-third of the guys don't tell. Two-thirds of them do, it's a day to day life in here now. That's one of the main reasons people don't discuss their cases. He don't want your transcripts or nothing like that to be a help, you going to always try to keep them under lock and key because at any given time he could read something, or your roommate could read something or anybody [could] read something or get some type of information on you.

Do you blame your friends?

At first I did. Now, I still blame them, but I can see now that a lot of them, that was their only choice, you know? Either they going to find somebody to testify on, follow the rules of the prosecutor, or they going to get stuck in prison for the rest of their life.

The prosecutor said they didn't lie...

Yeah, right. How would the judge know if they lied or not? ... Either tell the truth, probably go to prison for the rest of your life, or lie, cooperate with the government, do whatever it takes to get a lesser sentence. Which sounds better? ... The easy road is to cooperate with the government, do whatever the government want them to do, testify to whatever they want them to do, and in return they receive favors.

But lying would be perjury...

Yeah, that's one of the main reasons why you probably didn't get the opportunity to talk to [James] and Ron Smith, Robert Hines or anybody in our case, because if the truth came out, they've been in perjury seven trial[s]. So, to keep from the truth coming out, they ain't going to say nothing. ... From my understanding, they tell the prosecutor everything, and then she takes and goes from there. She tells them what to say, what not to say, what's good, who's bad, so lot of things she hear on our case that I know she knows about ... . She knows the truth ...

How do you think she felt when you got life?

I think she was happy ... . I remember her walking through the back of the courtroom, because I'm in handcuffs. I turned and look. She walk into the back of the courtroom, and when the judge handed the sentence down on me, I seen her laugh in the back of the courtroom. She actually laughed at me ... .

She laughed?

Yes. She had a opportunity to make some amends to our case. On direct appeal I got remanded in part ... . I had to go back for resentencing. She had a opportunity then to try to make some amends. They cut my codefendant['s] time down to 20 years. But she wouldn't hear of cutting my time down a day ... . The judge tell Gary, he feels he could be a more productive citizen in society. He going to give him the lower end of the guidelines. Twenty years. Gave me a sentence. Life. It was kind of puzzling to me because I was like, "Well, you gave somebody the high end of a conspiracy 20 years, and you gave somebody ... at the lower end of the totem pole life sentence again." I didn't understand. I'm still trying to figure out why. What did I do to her, the prosecutor, or what I didn't do, so bad to make her want to make me suffer so bad?

We spoke to one of the jurors from your trial and he was shocked at your sentence. He said he never expected you to get life.

I don't think nobody did. During the whole trial, they don't mention time that you're facing, only thing they do, they present a case. The juries don't hear your sentencing. They do not come to your sentencing. Only people be there, you and your attorney and district attorney and judge. The only thing I felt that's so wrong with the law, the judge don't have enough discretion or nothing no more. The district attorney say charge him with one kilo, two kilo, three kilo, and he found guilty, that's the time you're going to face on the guidelines. The judge don't have no discretion in looking into a case and deciding well, he's guilty but he's not guilty of all what you're trying to prosecute him. His hands are tied.

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