My case

Mrs Katharina Gertrud Wright, a young army wife, was robbed, raped, and murdered, in November 1976. She was a German woman, married to an American army man. On January 29, 1977, I was arrested for a different crime, on two counts of armed robbery. During the interview for this other crime that was conducted by another man, my name was mentioned as having been together with him at that time and having committed that crime. It was then, that the hell of Johnny Lee Gates began.

The police read statements from this man stating that I had told of this crime and that I had committed it. I was subsequently threatened by the police, calling me “boy” and “nigger”, and telling me what they planned to do, etc. They showed photographs of the apartment and of the victim’s body, as well one of a white male. A school photo of the first person who was charged with this crime, but was let go, as I found out years later. They told me what I had done and when I had done it and they would neither let me see a lawyer nor let make a phone call. Over and over again, I was told of everything that had happened in the apartment and how the crime was committed. Fearfully, I told them what they wanted to hear and signed a confession that was typed up. I was then taken to the victim’s apartment, showed around, and then told to act like I was an employee from the gas company while I was handed a can of oil. So, I did as I was told and touched the heater, where, of course, they later found my fingerprint. After I was taken back to the station I repeated what was told to me as it was recorded on video. The next day, they went back to the apartment, claiming they found one of my fingerprints there. I was willing to give them blood and hair, but I didn’t see a lawyer until moments before my arrangement.

I was given a court-appointed lawyer (a public defender) and I told him all that had happened; that I didn’t do the crime and what I had done that day of the crime. That I had picked up my girlfriend about 9 a.m. that day and that we had gone shopping in town. How, after that, we had gone to a motel room and had stayed there until about 8 p.m., making love. Then we had gone back to her house, from where I left about 1 a.m. in the morning. The crime had happened between 11 a.m. and 12 noon. The lawyer didn’t do any investigation and conducted no interview at all. I never saw a lawyer again, until close to the time the case went to court. He told me that my ex-girlfriend didn’t remember that day and that no one in my family, nor any of my friends were willing to come and testify for me (which was a lie). He convinced me to plea guilty to two counts of armed robbery for a twelve year sentence and manslaughter for a twenty year sentence. I had wanted to fight each case, but instead I listened to him. The rape, robbery and murder of Mrs. Wright, I wanted to fight and I told the lawyer about the treatment I had received. That I had asked for a lawyer, but that my request was not granted. That I had given blood and hair, that I had told of the apartment, how I had touched the heater, and that the heater had been turned on in the apartment. He didn’t do anything and said nothing at all.
On the day of trial the jury was picked. My lawyer didn’t ask for my trial to be moved to another town, nor did he reject the all white jury that was picked to hear my case. By law I should have had a jury with members that were representative of the make-up of the town. The D.A. witnessed against me and my lawyer really didn’t question the witnesses thoroughly at all. My lawyer had copies of the documents the D.A. had filed, but he didn’t use them or tell me about them. If he had used them and had really done his job, I would not be here now. Besides an all white jury the judge, the court appointed lawyer, and deputies were all white, too. My lawyer gave me no defence at all. He never questioned the stated witnesses, the evidence, nor did he call witnesses in my defence. He never pointed out to the jury that someone else had been charged with the crime but had been let go. Never pointed out at all that I was innocent. I was sentenced to death.

The day of the crime: A witness, a white female who lived downstairs from the victim (the stairs are the only way up and down, saw a white man running down the stairs from the apartment. She gave the police a detailed description of the white male. Another white male who lived upstairs, also gave a detailed account of a black man who had knocked on his door. This black man was in his late twenties, about 5’11” - 6’, about 170 lbs, with facial hair. I was only 21 years old at the time, 5’5”, 120 – 125 lbs, no facial hair. This man picked a few black guys from the photos in the police mug book that he thought may be the perpetrator, but he never picked my photo. The next day the mortuary called the police because a white male was acting strangely around the victim's body and fondling her. The guy ran out but the police gave chase and after catching him, took him in. In the car he told the police that he had shot her and then had had sex with her. That when he had shot her, she had fallen, and that blood had been under the bottom of the door. The police had missed the blood. The guy asked for mental help but when the police refused he had stopped co-operation. He told them, that they would never find the gun (they have not, even to this day). The guy’s family had gotten him a well-paid lawyer, who had gone to the D.A. and had convinced him that the guy couldn’t have committed the crime, because the guy couldn’t have an erection at all. So the D.A. dropped all charges against him.

My lawyer knew all of this, but never told the jury about it, or brought it up in trial, nor did he call the witnesses who had seen the white male. He didn’t ask the police why they couldn’t find my prints on the day of the crime – not until three months after the crime and the day after my arrest. He didn’t ask whether fingerprints could even stay down that long. My lawyer didn’t ask about my blood, which had been taken and had been tested against the semen and the other blood that had been found. As the crime lab found in conclusion, there was no match: The blood found in the apartment was B+ and my blood type is O-. They found no black male pubic hair, either.
Considering how I was found guilty for this crime, my lawyer played a big role in helping me get convicted. Years later, with new lawyers, the death sentence was fought in the courts. My innocence was never openly challenged in court or media. Mine has always been a backdoor case, from start ‘til finish, and I was treated like my ancestors would have been on the market. I had no voice for 30 years.
It was 2003, when finally my lawyers were forced to ask for the DNA evidence of the crime, for the trial to determine my mental retardation I was about to face. They found out that all evidence had been destroyed in 1979. Even the trial judge questioned: “Why?” He had never heard of evidence ever being destroyed in a capital crime case before, at least not before it went to the state supreme court. He went on to say that he did believe my due process constitutional right had been violated. Even then, my lawyers failed to use the evidence hearing to clearly point out my innocence of the crime. While the state crime witness was on the stand, they failed to ask about the fact that the semen against my blood type had not found to be a conclusive match, and failed to challenge the confession to the actually crime itself. Why did it take 27 years to find out about the evidence?
The mental retardation trial resulted in a mistrial. It was once again like the year 1977, being pressured to accept life without parole now, as I had been pressured to take 12 to 20 years back then. The same with the promise they made me in 1977 - that they will keep fighting. Since 2003 and after getting the sentence and promises, I’ve heard nothing about my case. There's nothing that can be done, all legal doors are closed. I'm told to be happy and grateful for receiving life without parole. They even tell people not to do anything, because it would further hurt my case. They don't want me to do anything for myself. Ronald Tabak is still very supportive, as far as the rest concerns, my case is over with and I’m left to die in the belly of the beast... Life without parole is a death sentence in itself and the most cruel way to die. If I had known that they were not going to fight for me anymore, I would have gladly gone to the state deathbed. Better than to spend the rest of my life in prison, for a crime I have not committed. Courts turn down my appeals. What’s left to do now? There is no justice in this country at all… I do hope my website is noticed - putting out in the world the story of what has happened to me. Shine some light on the institution in this country!

To be continued on the weblog...