THE MAURICE CARTER STORY

Eyewitness says it was not him

Man who started case against Carter convicted of perjury for his testimony against him

Attorney fails to get police reports, fails to let jury know of conflicting statements

Blacks removed from jury to ensure conviction



On December 20, 1973, about 1:00 p.m., Gwen Jones (now Gwen Baird) was working at the Harbor Wig and Record Shop at 129 E. Main in Benton Harbor, Michigan. A black male entered the store wearing an army-type fatigue jacket and black stocking cap, and began looking at records. He asked Jones about a record by Ahmad Jamal. She detected the odor of alcohol.

At that point, off duty Officer Thomas Schadler and his wife Ruth entered the store. Mrs. Schadler, after inquiring about a tape of Christmas songs by Elvis Presley, was looking at earrings, and Ms. Jones heard a conversation between Schadler and the black male. Shortly thereafter, she heard shots, and saw the black male shooting at Officer Schadler. Officer Schadler was seriously injured in the incident.

Investigating officers found no useful prints.

Gwen Jones described the gunman at 5'9" to 6' tall, dark skinned, heavy set with broad shoulders, and with an accent to his voice. She said she will never forget his face. When officers showed her some photos, they kept stressing the photo of Maurice Carter, who was light skinned. Jones told them it was not Carter, and that she had waited on the man for about 15 minutes and was quite certain. However, she did identify another photo as looking a lot like the shooter. That was a photo of a Mr. Meridy.

Tom Schadler told investigators he did not know who was the assailant, and that he "did not get a description." He said he paid little attention to the man, but that he was 5'10" or 5'11", wearing a green fatigue coat. Mrs. Schadler could only say that she didn't realize what was happening until her husband pushed her to the floor. She said that she didn't pay much attention to the gunman while he was in the store, but he was left-handed, heavy build, approximately 5'8" tall. Maurice Carter is 6'1" tall, right-handed, slim to medium build.

After the shooting, Officer Larry Morrow went to the Ponderosa Bar and picked up Maurice Carter, who was wearing a grey overcoat with a black fur type collar. He falsely told Carter that he matched the description of the perpetrator. Carter had no weapon, or any of the clothes described by the witness. He was brought to the shop, where Gwen Jones told them he was not the man. After hours of questioning, police released Carter.

Two years later, Wilber Gillespie, a former associate of Carter, was arrested on drug charges. Because of his record, he was subject to being imprisoned for life. After police had informed him of their interest in Carter, as part of a plea bargain, and in exchange for $5000 reward money, he signed a statement and told police that Maurice Carter had done the shooting, and he had seen Carter running away from the vicinity of the shop. He testified to this at Carter's preliminary examination. Later, the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office prosecuted Gillespie for perjury because of his testimony against Carter. Gillespie was convicted and sentenced to prison for 15 to 30 years for perjury against Carter.

After Gillespie's statement to police, Carter was arrested January 5, 1976, and police photographed him and provided his photo to reporters. On January 6, 1976, his photo appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Herald Palladium. Then, a lineup was held on January 13, 1976. Both Schadlers identified Carter, even though they denied any ability to identify anyone after the shooting. Oddly enough, Gwen Jones was not invited to the lineup.

Carter's court-appointed attorney, James Jesse, never objected to an identification made after Carter's photo was on the front page of the paper. Jesse never got police reports about the case. Discrepancies in height, complexion, facial hair, clothing, and left or right handedness were not inquired into by Jesse at trial. Jesse was unprepared because he did not have the police reports and witness statements. None of the statements made by the Schadlers after the shooting, where Mr. Schadler denied any ability to identify, and where Mrs. Schadler described someone who clearly was not Maurice Carter, was ever heard by the jury.

Nancy Butzbach, a white employee of the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office, told police she was looking out the window of her second floor office, a half-block away, and caught a "fleeting glimpse of a black man." By the time of trial, this fleeting glimpse evolved into a full scale identification, based largely on her identification of the shape of the nose of the man.

An all-white jury convicted Carter, even though Berrien County has many black citizens legally eligible to serve on juries. Three blacks, all that there were on the panel, were dismissed from serving before they ever got to the courtroom. One was Clementine Brown, an employee of Michigan Bell, then the phone company in that area. Bailiff Edwin Bartz testified at a hearing that Clementine Brown was excused by him because Michigan Bell said she was vitally important to their operations and requested that she be excused from serving.

However, Brown testified that she was a low level statistical clerk, easily replaced. The company in fact excused her from working, and she showed up at the courthouse to serve as a juror, only to be turned away. Harold Hewitt, regional manager for Michigan Bell, said that it was company policy to encourage employees to serve on juries, and all requests to serve on juries would be decided by him personally. However, a Mr. Donald Quick, a lower level Michigan Bell employee and father of two local police officers, and personal friend of the judge on the case, Judge Hammond, said that he told authorities that Clementine Brown could not be spared a few days to serve as a juror. Quick had first told investigators that Hewitt was right, but that Carter was "guilty as hell." Quick, who told investigators that he was prejudiced against "criminals," wanted to know about Carter's criminal record before deciding what story to tell.

Carter was sentenced to life in prison for assault with intent to commit murder. To seal Carter's fate, the same attorney who did such a poor job at trial, James Jesse, was appointed by the court to represent Carter on appeal. Needless to say, ineffective assistance of counsel was not one of the issues raised, nor was there any complaint about the removal of all blacks from the jury panel.

If Carter could get a new trial, and it were conducted fairly, there is little chance that Carter could possibly be convicted. That is why Berrien County frantically opposes all efforts to give Carter a new trial. And, based on the rules of "finality," courts are unlikely to reopen the case unless the state Attorney General gets involved. See our Report on Finality.

Judge John Hammond is a former local policeman in Berrien County. Carter cannot be paroled without his approval. The head of the Michigan Parole Board is Stephen Marschke, a former deputy and sheriff of Berrien County. Both men have a long record of not crossing law enforcement in their home county. Carter almost certainly will never be released as long as Hammond is judge and Marschke heads the Parole Board, even though Carter has been eligible for parole since 1986.

A one hour CNN investigation by Larry Woods featured the Maurice Carter story. They hired one of the nation's most reputable polygraph examiners, and examined Carter 3 times. The conclusion of the operator was that Carter was innocent "beyond the shadow of a doubt." Carter was also the subject of an expose on the CBS program 48 Hours. However, Berrien County cannot admit any mistakes without confessing their treacherous activities in framing Carter.

You can contact or contribute to the Maurice Carter Freedom Committee, 18569 Pawnee Dr., Spring Lake, MI, 49456, phone (616) 247-0922 (days), (616) 842-3862 (eves), e-mail thedouger@novagate.com. To read of another example of Berrien County racist injustice, see The Floyd Caldwell Story.



Return to the Headline Stories page.
Return to The Injustice Line main page.