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Larry Fowlkes
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, January 02, 2006

UPDATE: Welcome to QandO and please read to the bottom of this post. I hope you'll consider contacting Governor Warner and spreading the word about Larry Fowlkes. This is a rather unambiguous case of injustice, but one that can still be rectified.

Sadly, almost a month after Radley Balko first picked up the story of Cory Maye, it seems the media has not elected to report the story. A quick glance at Google News returns 23 references to Cory Maye, 22 of which are from blogs and 1 from a newspaper column written by. . .a blogger. That's a shame, but hopefully the media will pick up the ball from bloggers and pursue that injustice.

In the meantime, let me introduce you to a fellow from Virginia who deserves the attention of the blogosphere...
In 1996, a woman who has now been charged with more than 70 crimes and convicted of at least a dozen, put Larry Fowlkes in prison for first-degree murder. He was given the minimum punishment of 45 years. For Fowlkes, 49, it is a life sentence. He has lost a leg to diabetes since going behind bars, and he cannot be released until 2035.
Here are the relevant facts:
  • "Fowlkes was convicted in the Oct. 18, 1995, slaying of Ida Bowlin, in Crewe."


  • "The key evidence in the case was the testimony of Sheila Michelle Stokes."

  • "Months after the slaying, and shortly after she was charged with what would have been her fourth felony, Stokes came forward with information about the crime." [Stokes claimed to have heard Fowlkes talking of committing the crime, and to have "helped Fowlkes clean blood off the back seat of the car"]


    • A 2003 court ruling, while not addressing the merits of Stokes' testimony, noted that if Stokes testimony was false "there would be no independent corroboration of his conversation regarding driving to the scene of the crime and no corroboration of the cleaning of blood from his car", and that without it "the government may well have failed to convict Fowlkes". The Prosecutor in the Fowlkes trial conceded that there was "no question" that jurors would have to rely on Stokes' testimony "in order to find Larry Fowlkes guilty."


  • Fowlkes claimed "he was at church when it happened".


If the above-described he said/she said case sounds weak to you, read on. Here are a few more facts of the case...

  • "No evidence collected at the scene -- fingerprints, fiber, hair and blood -- linked Fowlkes to the murder".


  • "A deputy sheriff and a preacher testified they were among those attending church with Fowlkes 30 miles away when the murder was committed".


  • "Laboratory tests did not detect any traces of blood in Fowlkes' car"


  • "the knife was never found where Stokes said Fowlkes told her it was thrown."


  • Stokes backtracked on her testimony...
    Fowlkes' lawyers obtained a sworn affidavit from Stokes in 2001 in which she said, "I was in trouble for cashing a check that was not mine. The commonwealth's attorney, Mayo Gravatt told me that he could get the charges off of me if I help them. I was scared therefore I agreed to help." According to the affidavit, Stokes admitted that she lied on the stand against Fowlkes.

    The felony charge against Stokes was not prosecuted, after her testimony at Fowlkes' first trial.
    Stokes disavowed the affadavit only after being charged with more crimes.


  • "Stokes' employment records and her own brother prove she could not have overheard Fowlkes plan the crime".


  • "witnesses show Fowlkes was elsewhere during the murder and could not have gotten blood in his car"


  • "Stokes' sister says she was with Stokes when Stokes claims she and Fowlkes cleaned up the blood."


Demonstrating his deep personal commitment to justice, the Nottoway County Commonwealth's Attorney Mayo Gravatt "has never returned calls concerning the Fowlkes' case.

So, what we have is the testimony of Sheila Stokes -- a felon who "has now been charged with more than 70 crimes and convicted of at least a dozen [crimes]" -- which has been contradicted by the available evidence, family members and even by the felon herself....against (1) the word of the defendant, (2) a deputy sheriff, (3) a preacher, (4) Stokes' own employment records, (5) Stokes' own brother, (6) Stokes' own sister and (7) Stokes' herself.

Yet Larry Fowlkes sits in prison today. Why?

MORE:

Dan at Riehl World View points me to this recent Salon.com piece that incorporates the Larry Fowlkes story and adds this...
...the evidence suggests that Gravatt knew his star witness was committing perjury. Gravatt told jurors, "I want you to really study hard, each of you" a statement Stokes gave police in January 1996 in which she claimed Fowlkes confessed to her that he was in his car, outside the Bowlin home, when the murder and robbery took place. But Stokes' statement to police is completely contradicted by Gravatt's own admission that Fowlkes was not at the murder scene, but in church. Either Gravatt knew that Stokes was lying when she placed Fowlkes at the scene of the crime, or he believed that Fowlkes was stupid enough to tell Stokes he was involved in a murder when he wasn't.
What can you do? Aside from spreading the word in the blogosphere, you could also contact Governor Mark Warner of Virginia and ask him to strongly consider granting a pardon for this legal railroading...

Virginia Governor Mark Warner's Contact Page --- Email Contact form
Phone: (804) 786-2211
Fax: (804) 371-6351
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Where is the Governor on this? Seems to me petitioning the Governor for clemency is the best step.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com
This seems pretty cut-and-dry. So why did Fowlkes’ name come up in the investigation at all? There has to be some reason. The police don’t usually pick names at random from the phone book for framing.
How long should his normal appeals process take? Too long, of course. It shouldn’t even have to go to the governor, but I would like to see Warner’s take on this before he leaves office.
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
Where is the Governor on this? Seems to me petitioning the Governor for clemency is the best step.
You’re right. I’ve added information about that.
So why did Fowlkes’ name come up in the investigation at all?
Apparently it was Stokes who gave them the initial tip on Fowlkes.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I am curious about the personal history between the two. I am trying to picture the situation that would bring a jury to hear all of this and then convict Fowlkes anyway. I did see the first jury deadlocked...
 
Written By: Wulf
URL: http://www.atlasblogged.com
That’s a good point, and I do wonder what in the world they must have been thinking. I generally operate on the assumption that people don’t do what they perceive to be blatantly irrational things, and this decision certainly seems prima facie evidence of irrationality run amuk.

Apparently, Fowlkes lawyer was incredibly bad, and neglected to argue a few very simple erroneous points. Read the Salon story for that background. (especially the second page)
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
And if it should turn out that the prosecuter knew he was using perjured testimony to convict an innocent man, shouldn’t he be liable for something stronger than just being turned out of office?
 
Written By: Doug Collins
URL: http://
I don’t hold much hope for us.

Meaning, convincing the Governor to re-look at this case.

Regarding the Cory Maye case, I had followed it almost daily (The Agitator Blog). I went to the trouble of sending messages to Senator Barbara Mikulski and a columnist (Gregory Kane) at the Baltimore Sunpapers.

Neither have responded to me.

It appears that most, in positions that could help correct problems like this, won’t accept information coming from the Internet and those of us partaking of ’blog material.’
 
Written By: Daniel W McAndrew
URL: http://
I’ve been there and done that (got a first degree murder conviction reversed, after trial counsel did a rather poor job of trying it ... evidence did indicate the guy was guilty, but ...)

1. Without a really good review of the entire trial record, it’s hard to make a real call on it. There may be other evidence. Altho failing to search the car for blood does sound quite strange. You kill a person in a car, there’s gonna be blood all over. Imagine spraying a few gallons of paint inside your car and trying to "clean it up" in a hurry so as to leave not the tiniest trace.

2. On the other hand, I’ve seen some really incompetent and overworked defense attorneys. In the public defender’s office (not drawing tens of thousand for each case, but just facing one case after another, morale shot to heck because loss rate is around 90%+, a handful of investigators) this can be an esp. big problem... just because a guy is licensed doesn’t mean he’s had time to think about it, put everything together, or is a good speaker.
I tried to clean up after one case here (kidnapping conviction, where the guy really was innocent — he’d tried to make a citizen’s arrest and things got out of hand after police arrived), but couldn’t. The appointed defense atty was an older guy who’d done only probate work, but needed the cash. Closing argument was awful, he missed the fact that the jury instructions were bad, even argued for acquittal on a basis that contradicted his own client’s testimony.
 
Written By: Dave Hardy
URL: http://www.armsandthelaw.com
And if it should turn out that the prosecuter knew he was using perjured testimony to convict an innocent man, shouldn’t he be liable for something stronger than just being turned out of office?
Indeed, but that strikes me as an impossible thing to prove. At most, I think a good case could be made to the voting public that he was irresponsible in refusing to cooperate with reporters and researchers after the trial.
It appears that most, in positions that could help correct problems like this, won’t accept information coming from the Internet and those of us partaking of ’blog material.’
Well, in this particular case, the story is originating from a newspaper report. And Richmond — from whence the Richmond Times Dispatch — is the capital of Virginia. So this is probably on the Gov’s radar.
Altho failing to search the car for blood does sound quite strange.
They didn’t fail to search the car for blood. They searched it and found none. (which makes his guilt even harder to believe) What they failed to search for was evidence of a cleaning solution, which Stokes said was used to clean the blood.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some really incompetent and overworked defense attorneys.
This case is a classic example. Read the Salon article I linked for some instances of legal ineptitude.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Last week, Norfolk’s local paper, the Virginian-Pilot had an editorial on the state’s ranking in funding the public defender’s office #50. Even a good lawyer, can not do everything that needs to be done to properly try a capital case on the PD budget. You, need to have the Inocence project folks take it on post conviction, or luck into someone who will do everything pro bono. I figure that for the average Joe, he’s more likely to win the PowerBall jackpot, by playing with his kids milk money than to get a fair trial.

Tigger23505
 
Written By: anthony vancampen
URL: http://
Seems to me (as an Ontario lawyer who does NOT do crim law) that a good argument could be made that the D.A and Stokes conspired to deprive Fowlkes of his civil rights...Any chance of getting a Federal investigation started? (And Fowlkes arrested under a Federal material witness warrant and moved from where he is?)

On a more ethical plane, it seems to me that *any* prosecutor, or governor/attorney-general, who refuses to allow DNA testing etc. which could prove innocence is in breach of his oath of office to seek justice, not convictions.

Geoff
 
Written By: R. G. Newbury
URL: http://
Why not contact Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions?

Center on Wrongful Convictions
 
Written By: bearbee
URL: http://
Why not contact Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions?

Center on Wrongful Convictions
 
Written By: bearbee
URL: http://
I sent in this request to Gov. Warner’s office:

Please consider granting a pardon to Larry Fowlkes, currently in prison for murder. I have read about his case and believe his conviction was almost certainly an injustice; in fact, it might even be the case that (a) Nottoway County official(s) should be investigated for criminal
acts (or negligence) regarding the 1996 trial.

The primary source of my information is at the following web location: http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=3173


I hope it will help. I am really frustrated about the Cory Maye situation, especially the MSM’s avoidance of what seems to me would be at least a good story: I must assume it hits too close to home on some of their pet issues.
 
Written By: Aristomedes
URL: http://
I believe that Gov. Warner should grant clemency to Larry Stokes. Because I know that Sheila Barbour Stokes is in fact a liar and that it is my feeling Mayo Gravatt knew it. This is a miscarriage of justice. This is just my opinion and there was a rush to judgement before the DNA evidence came in. At best he should have a new trial. But I do hope that the Governor will act on this. I think Larry Stokes has suffered enough. I do not believe that a person facing felonies at the time should have been considered in this case.
 
Written By: Judy T. Lloyd
URL: http://AllPoetry.com

 
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