Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted




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Justice Long Overdue... The Story of John V. Carothers

By John V. Carothers. Edited by Peter Centorcelli, Justice: Denied Staff

One hundred twenty-five miles wasn't far enough away from the crime for John V. Carothers. Perjured testimony and a judge's illegal instructions were enough to convict him.

John V. Carothers had been in trouble with the law when he was young. At 25 he was convicted of attempted second-degree robbery and larceny. John served ten years and was paroled from New York to Washington in October 1970. Still a young man at 35, John was determined to turn his life around. He enrolled at Diver's Institute in Seattle and received his diving certification. His life was in control until he helped a friend.

John befriended Joseph Lalak while in prison. Joseph was released in May 1971 and contacted John who was eager to help another ex-con turn his life around. John gave Joseph a place to stay and even managed to secure him a temporary job. On September 2, 1971 Joseph borrowed John's car to go to Bellingham to get certified as a welder.

Joseph never went to Bellingham. Instead he went to Sequim, WA. Once there, Joseph shot and killed two people, a retired man and his wife. Jospeh took a 357 revolver weapon from the home where the shootings took place. Joseph Lalak had the pistol in his possession when he was arrested in Bellingham Washington. When the police checked the pistol registration it was discovered to be the property of Mr. Buck, the man who was shot. In October 1971 Joseph decided to flee to Canada. He stole his employer's car and took the murder weapon with him. Ironically, Joseph had an accident near Bellingham and fled the scene. He attempted to dispose of the weapon but was apprehended by police. Police ran a make on the gun and Joseph was charged with the double murder and robbery. Joseph implicated John as the shooter and made a deal to testify against John.

On January 27, 1971 John V. Carothers was arrested at his home in Bothell, WA. He was taken to Port Angeles where he was arraigned several days later. John's mother retained an attorney, Thomas Keefe, to defend her son. Mr. Keefe had no interest in handling this case and retained another attorney, Emmett Walsh, to handle the defense. Mr. Walsh had never handled a criminal matter before. After several closed-door sessions between the attorneys, the prosecutor and the pro-tem judge and without an evidentiary hearing, John's trial began in mid-June 1972.

The police had retrieved a sawed off shotgun and a rifle from John's barn when he was arrested, weapons that Joseph admitted owning. However, the prosecution claimed these weapons, which had nothing to do with the double homicide, were stolen from a gun shop by John and Joseph. A claim the prosecution never attempted to prove. These weapons sat intimidatingly before the jury with no objections from the defense attorneys.

Nearly a dozen witnesses testified as to John's whereabouts during the day of the crime, establishing clearly that John could not be at the shooting which occurred 125 miles away. On this day, John was re-fencing his property for some horses. John received a load of fence posts from the local lumberyard that day. The boss's son was delivering them and clearly remembers it because the bands broke on the load as he drove into the barnyard, dumping the entire load all over the place. A very memorable occurrence. Both the owner of the lumberyard and his son testified on John's behalf.

John had also spoken with several other people during the day in question. He had called his wife that morning and spoke to her and her foreman. John also received several calls that day. His wife's ex-sister-in-law called asking when John's wife would be home. His mother also called to tell him that his parole officer had sent some paperwork that John drove to pick up. Clearly John didn't have time to make a four hour round trip on this particularly busy day.

The judge informed the jury that the burden of proof of the alibi was with John. This alibi instruction had been ruled unconstitutional in 1955 as the defendant can never have the burden of proof. Even though John was indicted as the sole acting principal, the judge also instructed the jury that they could find him guilty of aiding and abetting and of being an accomplice. An accomplice to whom? John was the only one indicted. The jury was even informed John didn't need to be at the scene of the crime to be found guilty. John has affidavits from several jurors indicating these instructions are what cinched their agreement.

With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, John was found guilty based on Joseph Lalak's testimony, a man who had been caught repeatedly committing perjury. John was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences for the murders and 20 years for the robbery, to be served consecutively. The worst was still to come for John.

John began serving his concurrent life sentences in 1972. A life sentence in Washington State is twenty years minus good time credits. John's good time release date (GTRD) for the murder convictions was May 1985. At that time he was to begin serving his consecutive 20-year robbery conviction, with a GTRD of October 17, 1989. In December of 1985 the parole board expunged all GTRD's ex post facto. Even though John's GTRD had passed in May, he was resentenced by the board (without authority of law and ex post facto) to 840 months plus 90 months. This has been repeatedly changed and is currently 256 to 366 months. John has been infraction free for 27 of 30 years, having spent his time earning five college degrees. He is 65 years old and most of his family has expired. Clearly John poses no risk to society but his parole is denied time and again. The simple fact is for parole to be granted, the convict must admit guilt. This is something John will never do even though it would probably make him a free man at his next parole hearing. He was convicted on perjured testimony and illegal jury instructions. He has served 30 years for a crime he never committed, a crime that occurred 125 miles away from where witnesses place him.

We will never know what society has lost by having Mr. Carothers spend his life behind bars. Nothing can be done to make amends for this injustice. The least that society can do for him is to allow him to live out the rest of his life as a free man. Mr. Carothers is in desperate need of someone to fight on his behalf. Can someone please step up and help erase society's debt to this innocent man.

Outside Contact:

Gary Quinlivan and Fern Buffington

Justice Denied

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