OP-ED: A Troubling Case

What if you went to prison for what you thought about doing?

Alec Klein, President, Co-Founder & Director of the Wyoming Truth

By Alec Klein

Special to the Wyoming Truth

What if?

What if you were sent to prison for life–not for what you did but for what you thought about doing? 

Ever thought about doing something bad?

Jerry Brad McAnally did.

Brad, as he goes by, was pulled over in Shelby County, Alabama, about 20 years ago. He got a DUI–driving while under the influence. He faced the prospect of 10 years in prison. But then it got worse.

This, of course, isn’t a Wyoming story. But in a way, it’s a story without borders; our country, after all, has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2 million people behind bars. And Wyoming is among the states with the highest rates in the nation, jailing 850 people per 100,000.

But back to Brad. This is what he said happened and what I’ve gathered, in over a year of investigating, from court records, police reports, emails and other documents: While in Shelby County Jail, another inmate, who was awaiting a possible release, said he could solve Brad’s problem–by wiping away the looming 10 years in prison. How? This inmate said he could help Brad by shooting and killing the Pelham police officer who had arrested Brad for the DUI; that way, the officer couldn’t testify against Brad.

Forget for the moment that this s0-called plan made little sense. Removing the officer from the equation wouldn’t absolve Brad of the DUI. But beyond that, Brad said he didn’t have the kind of money that this inmate wanted for the hit job–$10,000.

Brad would be the first to tell you he was far from an angel back then, having had several run-ins with the law for other DUIs, drugs and assaults, among other things, records show. But Brad insisted he wasn’t serious about this proposal; he said he was trying to placate this other inmate, a large menacing figure. Brad said they were also high on crushed pills. Muscle relaxers.

There was another hitch in the plan: This inmate was wired. He had agreed to secretly record the conversations in jail with Brad. Why? This inmate told authorities he didn’t want this on his conscience, records show. As a result, authorities turned this inmate into a confidential informant and got Brad on tape. Now Brad was in even bigger trouble. Forget the DUI. Brad was suddenly facing solicitation to commit murder.

Brad thought he was facing 20 years for that. Brad thought if he pleaded guilty, he’d get three years, with the rest suspended, based on a plea deal negotiated by his lawyer with prosecutors. Brad thought wrong. When he was brought before a judge, Brad pleaded guilty, records show. The state recommended a life sentence. And that’s what the judge gave him: life.

Brad, now in his early 50s, has been sitting in an Alabama prison for about 17 years with the rest of his life behind bars stretching before him. While Brad didn’t kill anyone, the other guy–the confidential informant–who had been convicted of manslaughter, was released from prison after serving about 17 years, records show.

I’m reminded of what Bryan Stevenson, the great attorney, author of Just Mercy and head of the Equal Justice Initiative, once said: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Which is to say, what Brad did was certainly not good. Some might say he got what he deserved. But did he deserve a life sentence?

The average time served for murder in the United States is 15 years, according to federal figures.

The Equal Justice Initiative, incidentally, happens to be in Alabama, too. I tried contacting the nonprofit, which helps people who are facing various injustices in the legal system. I also tried contacting the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU of Alabama and the Innocence Project. I also tried contacting Brad’s attorney at trial. I didn’t get anywhere. 

I had been hired by Brad to look into his case; I’m a former investigative reporter for the Washington Post, and I’ve spent much of my career since leaving the Post investigating wrongful convictions and excessive sentences, helping to free many people across the country. My firm, Matthew 56 Investigations, LLC, continues to investigate cases of wrongful convictions and excessive sentences throughout the nation. I’m not working with Brad anymore—haven’t for over a year. But the case still sits with me. Brad said he never had the chance to listen to the recordings that were at the center of his case–the secret wire.

Brad said he’s never even read the transcript of the recordings. Brad wants to see what those recordings contain. He’s convinced they would show that he was entrapped, that he never had any intention of actually doing anything, that he was just shooting the bull. 

I tried to obtain those recordings, filing a public records request with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office. A prosecutor there told me that those recordings were part of the district attorney’s work product, which were “privileged.” Which was another way of saying I couldn’t have the recordings.

So I filed a public records request with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. I spoke with the county attorney, who sent me a polite letter denying the request for the recording. The letter read in part:

“The Alabama Law does not require that the Sheriff’s Office search records and gather information in order to comply with a Public Records Request. Searching for and accumulation of such information takes quite a bit of staff time to process.”

My translation: They’re busy.

The county attorney’s letter also said that because I am an out-of-state resident, I’m not entitled to access to Alabama public records. This has not been the case in many other states across the country where I’ve sought public records as part of my investigations. 

But here’s what I really want to know: What do those recordings show? Would they exonerate Brad?

Spread the love

Related Post