"I didn't do it" or "I'm innocent" are the most infamous words inside of a prison.
I met Joe at the Wynne Unit, Huntsville, Texas. Joe was incarcerated for sexual assault of his two stepsons.
A few years earlier, one of the young lads had drawn a kangaroo, with a penis and something dripping from the penis at school. The teacher "just knew" the child had been sexually assaulted. The boys were not audiographed, video taped, but were offered "gifts". They were removed from the home. The boys had no idea that a drawing would separate them from a stepfather they loved as well as their mother. The boys were questioned, coerced. Their minds were manipulated to believing a lie is the truth - like when we teach our kids that Santa Claus and The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are real.
Joe and Barbara both were convicted of sexual assault. There was no physical evidence. The kids were taken to pool parties and pizza parties by the district attorney's office. Their statements were rehearsed and rehearsed to a point of total orchestration during trial. The performances were Oscar winners. The district attorney won - he had two convictions - put another notch on his belt - type wins.
Joe knew he was innocent. He wrote letter after letter asking for help. Joe's court appointed attorney wrote him a letter which stated something to the fact, "I have other paying clients so if you get one of the law library guys (at the prison) to write you a writ and if it gets heard, then I will come back on the scene and help you out."
Twelve long years past after Joe received that letter. In the interim, the boys were growing up with their paternal grandparents and biological father. On a visit to their grandparents they found a letter under a rug - the return address was their mother's prison address. They had been told that Joe and their mother had abandoned them - never wanted to see them - and just vanished.
I cannot even imagine telling a child that his parent didn't want to see him. How sad is that?
John, (name changed) the oldest, started asking a lot of questions. He wrote to his mother, she wrote back. When John was told why she and Joe was incarcerated, he knew that they were wrongfully imprisoned and had to do something. Until that point, they had no idea that they were the ones who put their mother and Joe in prison.
John and David (name changed), both brothers, made a video taped recording of the truth of the matter and they gave sworn affidavits. They called the district attorney's office, who refused to listen to them. The mailed an affidavit to Joe. Upon receipt of the affidavit, Joe contacted his court appointed attorney again. Still no response from the attorney. Smokey, a prisoner himself, who hung out in the law library of the Wynne Unit, made an appeal for Joe. Joe sent his court appointed attorney a copy of the paperwork.
Joe contacted me. I have no idea how he got my name. After my initial visit with Joe, I later met with his son, George and wife, Sheila. George and Sheila had two sons who had never seen their grandfather. George had been a faithful son all these years that his dad had been in prison. He sent money for commissary. George wanted his father home, where Joe belonged.
I wanted the entire family and community who knew Joe to be involved. I wanted the Governor's office bombarded with letters from citizens who knew the truth. I wanted to put as much pressure on our, then, District Judge - reminding him that the citizens wanted justice and for him to right his wrong. I showed Sheila how to start a letter writing campaign. I assisted George and Joe in finding two attorneys willing to pick up the writ where Smokey couldn't go. They were also going to sue the State for wrongful incarceration. When the court appointed attorney found out that Joe had these two attorneys, Bill (name changed) jumped at getting in the spot light.
Twice Joe was brought back to Jefferson County for hearings in District Court. Bill asked me to step a side, that he "could handle things from here".
Joe was released after fourteen years of incarceration. He was threatened by his court appointed attorney that he would have to drop the law suit or be thrown back in jail for a marijuana charge. A threat that was mute in all honesty - but scared Joe so badly that he would have to go back to a prison hell hole. Joe was also told to fire me. Well, you can't be fired if you are working for free! However, Joe's, George's, Sheila's and the boys' happiness and freedom was more important to me than my ego. I withdrew, physically. But, I kept hope and faith that freedom wouldn't be long coming for Joe.
His court appointed attorney someday wants to write his own memoirs, which caused Joe to lose out on a book deal - he already had an agent and a signed contract. He lost out on a law suit because of his court appointed attorney scared him and wouldn't file one. Greed on his attorney's part. Joe lost out on any type of financial reward for all the years he was incarcerated, because of the court appointed attorney.
I hope when those memoirs are published that he doesn't taint the name of Joe or use Joe's name to make himself look big or powerful or wonderful. I lost total respect for Bill during Joe's proceedings. I saw an attorney who abused and neglected his client, something I disdain, then got before the cameras and patted himself on the back of what a wonderful job he had done.
Joe was released. His first gift, besides the suit bought by Sheila and George that he wore when released, was a baseball - his grandsons wanted him to play baseball with them - like perhaps Joe would've done all those years that were lost.
Approximately six months after Joe's released, he had a stroke, was put in a nursing home and soon passed away. Joe was an avid baseball player and loved the game, he liked to gamble, have fun with friends, barbeque, boil a little crawfish, family was important to him, but most of all....Joe wanted his name cleared.
Our system isn't perfect by any means. Many prosecutors lie, withhold exculplatory evidence and manufacture evidence just for the win. Joe was one of my clients during the infancy of my being a private investigator. Thru Joe, I learned so many tricks of prosecutors, lies of bad attorneys; I learned who to trust, what to watch for, constitutional errors, and more. Joe helped me be good at my job. He also reaffirmed to me why I became an investigator. I love Joe for making me better at what I do. Because I had "given hope to George" Sheila crocheted me a gorgeous scarf with my name on it. It was and is a gift that I cherish to this day. It's a reminder to work hard - for all the Joes in the world.
Rest in peace, Joe.