Is the Chattanooga 3 Case Over?


by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

I want to make it clear today, that my only interest in this matter at this time is to state forthrightly that I intend to challenge this unjust conviction, and to appeal it to the highest court in the land.

From the beginning, we knew that there had been no possibility of a fair trial in these proceedings, if held in Chattanooga. Especially for myself, I have known there has been widespread political prejudice against me, if not personal hatred, from the public officials in Chattanooga and Hamilton County since I have been a persistent critic of police operations and the denial of equal justice for Black people in this area. Ironically, I was a plaintiff in the federal civil rights action against county and state officials that challenged the fact there are no African-American judges in this area, and some ten years after the start of litigation, there still are not any representatives from the Black community deemed fit to sit in judgment. Yet, though the court itself is personally aware of this prejudice by county officials, the court has not seen fit to grant the motion to have had this case transferred to another county, even though there was widespread negative publicity by local media throughout the county about the case and the defendants, both from the time of the incident itself, but more importantly, immediately up to and during the trial.

But this is just part of the reason we are looking at a case of true selective prosecution, whereby only in Hamilton County, in the entire state of Tennessee, and against local movements I have led against racism and police brutality have the charges of disruption been used in a court of law. They have not been used against racists like the Ku Klux Klan who have terrorized the Black community for years, against anti-abortionists, who have blocked the women’s clinic and terrorized women seeking an abortion, nor against anyone else in this city or state for any kind of political protest that the authorities approved of. Clearly, common sense would lead a reasonable person to conclude that this law is being used to prosecute for reasons beyond that stated in the indictment. We know it’s to try to punish me for my years of activism in this area. Let’s be honest about that, shall we?

*The court allowed a tainted jury selection process whereby the next door neighbor and friends of the attorneys in this legal matter were placed in the jury pool, and we had to use our very scarce number of peremptory challenges to remove them. The court on its motion should have removed such persons, or granted the motion of defense attorneys to remove them for cause. This was an obvious call, but one which clearly showed that the court was deeply biased toward the state and wanted us to have a biased jury.

*The court allowed the systematic removal of more Black persons from the jury than were actually placed on it. This showed that the court would allow any amount of racial bias in the selection of a jury, regardless of what the law says.

*In undue deference to the prosecution, the court refused to even allow our attorneys to make an argument to the jury that the First Amendment was at issue in this case. We all know that the questions about the constitutionality of the statute clearly linger, and have yet to be *finally* resolved by any court. To have told the defense attorneys that they could not argue about the constitutionality of the statute or even that the First Amendment allows dissent from government policies and to appear before government officials to state grievances deprived us of a fair trial and to not have even had a defense. I believe that it made our attorneys so ineffective that we were deprived of the effective assistance of counsel entirely as required by the Sixth Amendment.

*The pretrial publicity was so extensive that it was clear that the jury members were exposed to it, and were not honest in saying that they could decide this case in an unbiased manner. They remembered it two years before. Who in their right mind would believe that they did not know about it in the days leading up to the event? Yet the court allowed persons who heard of the case, and despite their protestations, clearly had a bias against the defendants, to sit in judgment, and would not consider sequestering the jury to shield them from prejudicial newspaper reporting and nightly re-enactment of the case by Chattanooga TV stations, commentary in newspapers and on radio stations.

*During the trial an incident took place in which a man came into the courtroom and when asked by bailiffs if he “had anything on him,” surrendered a bag of various kinds of bullets. Myself and Damon McGee were also personally told by a court bailiff that the man had a firearm as well. Personally, I believe that his whole matter was staged by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office and local officials to prejudice the jury and support the sheriff’s call for “more funding” for courtroom security.

Whatever the truth of that matter, the gunman was not arrested for a felony (T.C.A. 39-17-1306) no less, which was more serious than what we were on trial for. No one attempted to stop him even when he ran out of the courthouse screaming that he was going to “get men with guns from bin Laden’s group” to come back. I cannot believe that no action was taken to apprehend him, nor that the court did not voluntarily hold a hearing in this matter and only questioned the jury about it when implored to do so by the defense. Even then, when it was discovered that there had been widespread reportage of this matter in the local news and that the jurors had all discussed it, the court held no hearing and refused to grant the defense motion motion for a mistrial. It took the defendants themselves to argue vigorously with our very reluctant defense counsel just to get them to agree to approach the court about removing the three jurors who admitted seeing the incident on the news and/or discussing it in jury chambers. That was the only action the court took, and it was not enough since it was clear that the entire jury pool was tainted. This clearly and obviously deprived us of a fair trial because we were deprived of a fair jury itself, and removing the three juror was not curative of the matter. It was judicial misconduct to continue to hold a trial under such conditions. It just shows that the court only wanted a jury capable of a conviction, regardless of the circumstances.

*Because I felt that I was not receiving the effective asistance of counsel that I am entitled to by both the national and state constitutions, I sought to represent myself in this matter. I attempted to address the court and present a written motion to that effect, but the court claimed that “it was too late” since the trial had started. This was an egregious violation. The United States Supreme Court has already ruled on this matter and held that the right to self-representation cannot be limited by the court in any way. Furthermore, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Article 1, Section 9, clearly recognizes the right of self-representation and places no limitations on it as having to occur pre-trial.

*I also want to say that this case going to trial over two and a half years after indictment was outrageous and in violation of the defendants’ rights to a speedy trial as well as the statute of limitations. There is no question that the court was overly lenient to the state in deciding how this case should be conducted, even after the time for most proseuctions would have lapsed.

In conclusion, let me say that I know that these issues will be raised on appeal and in post-conviction motions. I will see to that, but I wanted to address these matters today, get them into the record and state my objections to what all the defendants agreed was a kangaroo court trial, a political show trial, to satisfy the desire of local officials for revenge. In that respect, we could expect no real considerations of fair play or observance of the rules. But this is not the end of it. I am confident that the statute will be ruled unconstitutional and that there will be an investigation of this entire case. This statement has been put on the internet, and people all over the world know about this travesty of justice. The furor over it will not die down. It will wind up haunting you, I assure you.

I am not afraid of being sentenced to jail because my cause is a just one. You may break my body, but never my heart or soul. In fact, it is you who should be afraid and embarrassed over your part in this case because it totally betrays your vaunted principles of the law being impartial and that citizens have rights which the government is bound to respect, including the right to dissent. If you are Black, a critic of police and politicians, and have no money to defend yourself, the law and the constitution do not equally apply to you, and the law will be perverted to persecute you. That is the reality exposed by this trial.

Lorenzo Komboa Ervin
February 26, 2001
Hamilton County Criminal Court
Chattanooga, Tennessee


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