Another Innocent Man Sentenced to Life in Prison

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I am a little late to this story due to the Christmas hiatus, but I still believe that it is worthy of discussion.    

Sentenced to life in prison in November for armed robbery, LaDondrell Montgomery insisted he was not the shadowy figure on surveillance video. He swore the eyewitness identifying him were flat wrong.

If only the 36-year-old habitual offender had an alibi. If only he could remember exactly where he was that day of the robbery.

A week after jurors sentenced Montgomery, his attorney was researching the felon’s lengthy rap sheet.

In that file was a report that had details about a 2009 arrest and an iron-clad alibi: He was in jail.

Released from custody about nine hours after the December 13, 2009 crime, Montgomery was actually innocent.

“We didn’t know,” said attorney Ronald Ray after the conviction was thrown out Thursday. “We didn’t learn that until several days after the trial.”

Ray said Montgomery was in and out of custody so many times he did not remember exact dates. The defendant even testified in his trial and never brought up the startling fact.

“He couldn’t remember. We asked him where he was on all the cases he’s been charged with,” Ray said. “He just couldn’t remember, for that particular date, where he was.” (source)

I don’t for one minute believe that LaDondrell Montgomery is a good man, considering his lengthy criminal record, but I do believe that he is both a product of our society and our warped criminal justice system. I suspect this is yet another incident in which Montgomery was failed. 

Let’s begin with the fact that he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.  We have all seen the news reports where inmates have been set free thanks to DNA evidence and the work of Project Innocence. In Montgomery’s case, all that was required was a simple look through his rap sheet, and this is something that his attorney and the prosecution both failed to do.  Each person is promised a defense, but what they are not promised is a good defense.  The prosecution is not interested in anything exculpatory and simply seeks to convict. They feed quite like sharks, single minded in their approach and ignorant to anything outside of their very restrictive purpose. This of course makes historically marginalized people particularly vulnerable.  They are like chum in the water. 

The following are from the comment section on The Root about this story:

Richard Johnson 

Mr. Montgomery’s attorney is black. The witnesses who testified that he committed the crime are black. Mr. Montgomery is black. 

Why the cries of racism? 

Robin Taylor wrote: “black men who make up 40% of this country’s prison population despite only making up about 5-6% of its population should sound loud bells.” 

Yes. It should send LOUD bells. A disparate number of black men are living a life of crime. You should be applauding the system taking this criminal away from your impressionable youth. Break the cycle. Take responsibility. Get a legal income.

True Grit

What amazes me the most is the ignoramus racist folks here on the root… 

YOU want to blame the system which is the general consensus here and that the system is run by white folks…The ATTITUDES here reflect that judiciary system is unfairly sentencing black church alter boys such the likes of MR. MONTGOMERY..Not to MENTION that it was his Homies (black in color) who fingured him and testified on the State behalf. Let me guess they weren’t really black, what are they then? UNCLE TOMS? Perhaps you’re right, the system is broke..I concede..What we need is a national 3 strikes you’re out law! Then people like the Alter boy Montgomery would be behind bars for life and not being implicated by his BLACK home boys. JUST MY TWO CENTS WORTH.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of a broken system, so many still refuse to admit that race and class play a significant role in who is incarcerated, and whose crimes go unpunished. Montgomery’s previous charges were only relevant in so far as they could prove whether or not he was incarcerated at the time of the crime.  We pay lip service to the idea of innocent until proven guilty, but the truth is, the moment a person ends up in a pair of police cuffs, the stigmatization begins.

Just because the people who testified against him were Black, does not remove the racial element in this case.  Just like any other oppressed group, there is such a thing as internalization.  Whiteness could not rule over us without the collusion of many.  There is also the factor of socialization.  We are raised to believe in the negative about ourselves, and to disregard the effect that living in a White supremacist state has on our life’s chances.  We are taught to think individually, rather than socially.  This is why so many hold onto a ridiculous boot straps mentality, when it is obvious that certain groups are specifically targeted to fail to maintain the privilege of others.

There is also the issue that the penal industrial complex is highly focused on punishment rather than reform.  Socially we believe in limited to no opportunity for self improvement in prison, even though these very same inmates will one day rejoin society. It is extremely doubtful that Malcolm Little would have become Malcolm X had he not been in a an extremely limited program that encouraged positive growth.  Even after one does the time for the crime, so to speak, punishment continues because we ostracize based in the fact that the criminal has a spoiled identity and limit chances for gainful employment.  When said person inevitably commits yet another crime, we blame the individual, rather than a society that has forced them into this position.

How can the individual be solely to blame, when poor Black boys are set up for failure and then institutionalized for failing to rise above the role that Whiteness has carved out for them to play.  It begins in the underfunded schools that systematically crush a desire to learn and achieve. They are taught the history of the oppressor, as though celebrating a history of their own oppression will lead to positive results.  It happens when they engage with the media and see that the only the only faces that matter are White.  Black boys are taught that their avenues for success are rap, athletics or criminality. Imagine if you were given only three choices in life.  Even those who against all odds manage to get into college and receive scholarship money, quickly realize that they don’t have the knowledge required to compete with the other students.  Many of these same high achieving students are forced to drop out after the first year, with nothing to show for their years of struggle.

Montgomery did not come out of his mother’s womb a criminal, but the one thing that you can be sure of is that Whiteness did it’s best for years to ensure that he became one.  It should terrify us all that even with video evidence, an innocent man was sentenced to life in prison. What would have happened if Montgomery had not been able to prove his innocence via a record of his incarceration? How many people are serving life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit and worse yet, how many people have been put to death for a crime they didn’t commit? What we shouldn’t be talking about is Montgomery’s failure to recognize that he had proof of his innocence, but a society and a penal justice system determined to round up and incarcerate people of colour. In many ways today’s system is yet another manifestation of slavery.

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