The Sun Always Rises
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on July 14, 2019
My sentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. CST in Birmingham, Alabama. This day has been set aside for the trial judge in my criminal case to impose her sentence after a federal court jury found me “guilty” of one count of conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, and two counts of bank fraud. I am innocent of those charges.
I respect the jury system. Jurors try to do the right thing, more often than not. However, my 46-years of active participation in the American judicial system has shown me (and the world) that well-meaning jurors often convict innocent defendants.
The most famous Alabama case that demonstrates this fact happened to be my first case out of law school – the pardon for Mr. Clarence Norris, the last known surviving Scottsboro Boy. In 1931, nine innocent black teenagers were arrested for raping two white women on a freight train passing through Paint Rock, Alabama. The rape charges were fabricated. The defendants were tried by a jury, convicted of rape, and sentenced to death – three times. The U.S. Supreme Court saved the Scottsboro Boys from the administration of Alabama’s death penalty each time. Forty-five years after their arrest, the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board conferred upon Mr. Norris the first and only pardon ever issued to a death row inmate on the basis of his proven “innocence” of the crime for which he was convicted.
Mr. Anthony Ray Hinton experienced the same injustice in Alabama. Hinton was charged with the murder of two Birmingham area restaurant managers in 1985. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death. Hinton spent nearly 30 years on death row before the State of Alabama dropped the criminal charges against him in 2015 -- several years after prosecutors knew he was innocent of the charges.
The Central Park Five case in New York represents a present-day example of innocent defendants who were falsely accused, criminally charged, tried, and convicted of assault, rape, robbery, and other charges. They were subjected to a horrific experience inside the criminal justice system. It took the Central Park Five years to correct this injustice, which finally occurred when the State of New York dismissed the charges against these innocent teenagers, vacated the convictions, and paid them $41 million for their wrongful incarceration. Their case is dramatized in the miniseries, “When They See Us,” which is presently airing on Netflix.
These cases also demonstrate why innocent defendants must wage an enduring fight for their freedom. The judicial system rarely corrects injustices on its own; the innocent defendant must become the drum-major for justice in his/her case.
The Support in My Case Has Been Overwhelming
The support I have received from those who studied the objective evidence in my case has been overwhelming. These supporters know my true character, and they know it is good.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Robert Wooden said this about character: “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Coach Wooden’s statement on character has been my mantra in life. My good character is the glue that holds my family together and secures my rightful place in the world of law and business.
The test of character is adversity. It does not build character; it reveals character. One's strength of character is measured by the devotion of those who stand by his/her side in times like these. I have been very blessed in this regard.
Freedom is a State of Mind
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught me as a child that freedom is a state of mind. He was jailed repeatedly for refusing to surrender his manhood to those who did not see him as a human being. Yet, he was a free man in his mind throughout his entire life.
Nelson Mandela suffered a similar fate for the right to be respected as a human being. He was charged with crimes against the Republic of South Africa, tried in court, convicted, and sentenced to a term of 27 years in prison. Mandela served his time in isolation at the infamous Robbins Island prison. Yet, he was a free man in his mind throughout this entire ordeal.
Both men were labeled as “criminals” and “con artists" by those who imprisoned them. Both of them sacrificed their physical freedom so that tens of millions of people around the world would be respected as human beings. Both of them are national heroes today.
Many people are physically free to move around in the world, but a lot of them are serving lifetime sentences in the prison of psychological inferiority. They have willingly subordinated themselves to a life of subservience. They will never be free.
Will Justice Be Served on Tuesday?
Our judicial system provides the tools to achieve justice in every case. This is particularly true within the federal system where judges hold lifetime appointments. A sentencing judge has broad discretion to craft a fair and reasonable sentence.
Each side has filed a sentencing memorandum with the court on a recommended sentence in my case. This matter is now in the hands of the trial judge.
The law allows me to appeal the jury verdicts in my case after the judge sentences me on Tuesday, and I fully intend to do so.
My Work is Far From Done
The sun always rises each day, and so do I.
I enjoy my advocacy work for those who have no effective voice in society. I will continue to be that voice.
I love my brand of independent journalism, which presents the cold, hard truth without fear or favor. It will continue, no matter what happens.
And, I still have challenging business goals I am striving to achieve. I love attaining goals that people say are impossible to reach, especially for an African-American.
Wherever I go and whatever I do, I will always follow John Wooden’s words of wisdom:
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
“It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
“It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
PHOTO: Donald V. Watkins, Jr. (Left) and Donald V. Watkins, Sr. (right) standing tall in the sunshine of life.