Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted

 

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The Michael Brown Story

Read the story and decide for yourself if Michael Brown is serving the sentence that belongs to someone else.

JUSTICE DENIED FOR MICHAEL E. BROWN

By Susan Brown Long edited by Barbara Jean McAtlin, Justice: Denied Staff

At some point during the summer of 1997, two men, Greg Black, 40, and Ron Davis, 37, were shot to death in their Salt Rock, West Virginia, home. Their bodies were found on August 17, 1997. Three men, Matt Fortner, Joe France, and Michael Brown were charged with the two murders. Both Fortner and France had previous arrest records and had been in trouble with the law; Brown did not have a previous arrest record and had never been in trouble with the law.

On August 23, 1997, the house where Black and Davis were murdered burned to the ground. With only a cursory investigation, the police called the fire "arson." A man named Jason Pinkerton, along with a male passenger, was seen driving in the area of the house while it burned. The same evening of the fire, Jason Pinkerton, Daniel Gosney, Matt Fortner, and Joe France, leave West Virginia bound for Florida.

Where does Michael Brown fit into this crime? He doesn't. Brown left for Charleston, South Carolina, on August 20, 1997, where he was enrolled in the Culinary Arts School at Johnson & Wales University. He was taking classes, had his own apartment, and had begun a part-time job. With his eyes on his future as a chef, Michael had been planning for over a year to attend Johnson & Wales University.

Meanwhile, Fortner and France were arrested in Florida for the assault and robbery of two Canadian tourists. They had used a Glock 9mm handgun which was later discovered to be the same weapon that had been used in the West Virginia murders of Black and Davis.

Once arrested in Florida, the two began giving statements about the West Virginia murders. Fortner already knew he was a suspect in the murders because his stepfather had called to inform him that the West Virginia State Police had been to his house and had collected evidence. At that point, Fortner decided to blame the murders on Michael Brown. Obviously, he figured if he gave the police information about the West Virginia murders, the charges against him in Florida would be dropped. What Fortner did not know was that West Virginia has a felony murder rule; he only succeeded in implicating himself. He claimed he watched Brown kill Black and Davis. In reality, Fortner told the police exactly what he did using Brown's name.

Fortner and France gave numerous contradictory statements to the Florida authorities and the West Virginia State Police about the murders. For example, in their first statements, they both said Brown was driving a Chevy Blazer on the night of the murders. This Blazer sat approximately four feet off the ground and had a very loud muffler. In their next couple of statements, they said Brown was driving a Subaru Legacy. The facts are, Brown had sold the Chevy Blazer on August 11, 1997, and his parents had given him a Subaru Legacy to take with him to college. Apparently, Fortner and France had forgotten that Brown had sold his Blazer, and they changed their story once they remembered. They both said they rode in the vehicle the night of the murders. There are distinct differences between a Chevy Blazer and a Subaru Legacy. Obviously, they would know the difference, especially since they said they rode in the vehicle. This is just one of many contradictions. They both claim Brown shot Black and Davis, however, they could not seem to tell a consistent story of what happened.

Every piece of physical evidence in this case was found at either Fortner's home in West Virginia or at Fortner's and France's hotel room in Florida. Fortner was known to always carry a backpack that contained a semiautomatic Tech 9mm handgun and a dagger. It was also discovered that he maintained a journal with entries that described his love of "darkness," his attempt to control a "circle of friends," (which included Mike Mount) his problem of being a "pathological liar," and his abusive nature. France was known to carry a Glock 9mm handgun with him, just like the one that was deemed the murder weapon in the murders of Black and Davis. In their Florida hotel room, Fortner and France also had a diagram for constructing a handgun "silencer" as well as bullets matching the ones at the crime scene in West Virginia.

Michael Brown was contacted by the West Virginia State Police and told he was to leave Charleston, South Carolina, and come to Huntington, West Virginia, for questioning. Upon arriving back in West Virginia, the police arrested Brown and charged him with the murders of Ron Davis and Greg Black. Brown was NEVER asked to give a statement. Since the day he was arrested, Michael Brown has had one story, and that story has never changed. He has consistently said he did NOT kill Davis and Black. The night of the murders, Brown went to a local bar called the Drop Shop, then to Jason Pinkerton's house, and then he gave Mike Mount a ride home. Brown left the Drop Shop at approximately 2:00 a.m., dropped Mount off at his house, and arrived home around 3:00 a.m. The times listed are very important because Fortner said the murders occurred between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. Fortner says he took France home after the murders and arrived home himself at 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. Carolyn Brown, Brown's mother, concurred that Brown arrived home at 2:52 a.m. She remembered because she was awake when he came home, and she looked at the time on the microwave digital clock. Mike Mount also concludes that he arrived home at approximately 3:00 a.m. There is no way Brown could have committed these murders according to this time line.

Matt Fortner has previous felonies, including a dishonorable discharge from the military. Fortner gave seven different statements about the murders. These statements are contradictory and full of apparent lies. Fortner admits to being present at the Black and Davis murders, but he implicates Michael Brown as the shooter. His own statements, when compared to the crime scene evidence, actually place him in the footsteps of the shooter himself. The first victim was shot in the face as he answered the door. The prosecution and police referred to this as a "military style" killing. Fortner was in the military and he was well trained with weapons. According to Fortner's testimony, the entry of the bullet in the first victim, and the location of the spent 9mm cartridges, put Fortner standing right where the killer had to have been standing. The second victim had been shot in his bedroom while lying on the bed. Fortner said Brown walked to the bedroom door and began firing from the doorway. Fortner also said that, while looking over Brown's shoulder, he saw the victim's body "jump." However, according to where the spent shell casings were found, the evidence proves that the gunman went into the bedroom and, while moving about the room, shot the victim. The Glock 9mm does not kick spent shell casings very far. Spent casings typically drop only a few inches from where the gun is fired. This alone proves that the shooter had been moving around the room. Brown is 6'3" tall; Fortner is approximately 5'7" tall. There is no way Fortner could have looked over Brown's shoulder to see anything. Once again, Fortner is lying.

Brown's vehicle was also searched and tested by the West Virginia State Police. There was not one piece of evidence found, no bloodstains and no gunshot powder residue. Fortner's car was never searched or examined by the police, and Fortner sold his vehicle within one month after the murders.

Fortner continued to lie by saying Brown had gone home and burned the clothes he was wearing the night of the murders in the woods behind his house. Brown lived in a residential neighborhood and there were no woods behind, or anywhere, around his house. There are woods behind Fortner's home and Fortner never produced the clothing he was wearing on the night of the murders. Brown had the clothes and shoes he was wearing on the night of the murders. There were no bloodstains anywhere on them. According to the experts, the murderer should have been covered in blood after the shootings.

The prosecutor had a very weak motive for Brown killing Black and Davis, so he basically created one. He claims Brown killed the men over a set of car keys and that he and Fortner had gone to their house to rob them. First, the police never concluded that a robbery had taken place at the crime scene. There was no physical evidence to support that theory. Second, Brown was never upset or concerned that his car keys had been stolen. Brown was at a friend's house the day his car keys were taken and Black and Davis had been at that same house during the day. It was never proven who took the car keys, but it did not matter to Brown because two or three days later the keys showed up. Brown did not know Black and Davis and he had only seen Davis on this one occasion. He never accused Black and Davis of taking his keys. The only person who made that accusation was Chiles.

The prosecutor, Chris Chiles, gave Fortner life in prison with mercy (a chance of parole in fifteen years) on one count of murder in exchange for his testimony during Brown's trial. The fact is Chiles knew Fortner had given multiple conflicting statements full of inconsistencies. He also knew Fortner had at least seven different versions of what had happened and that his actual testimony made him the prime suspect. Chiles was also aware of the fact that Fortner had a criminal history and an arrest record. Chiles examined all of the physical evidence and the crime scene, and he knew that the timeline, which Fortner helped create, did not put Brown at the victim's house at the time of the murders. Yet, Chiles insisted Brown had killed Black and Davis. In reality, Chiles took Fortner's word and hoped the evidence would fall in place to pin the murders on Brown. However, the physical evidence found at the crime scene, at Fortner's house, and in the hotel room in Florida, only proved that Fortner and France were involved. No physical evidence in this case connects Brown to these murders.

Another twist in this case involves the testimony and statements of the state's witness, Michael Mount. Mount's initial statement to the police did not implicate Brown as being involved in this crime. Interestingly, his statements began to change after being granted immunity from future prosecution for a breaking and entering burglary of a machine shop several months earlier. The shop, actually owned by France's father, was broken into by Mount, Fortner, and France, his own son. France's father dropped the charges against the three men, but the prosecutor used the threat of future prosecution as leverage to elicit false statements and testimony from Mount about the murders. Suddenly, Mount changed his statement and said Brown told him that he and Fortner killed those men. Mount's second statement is a complete and total lie. Mount currently lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended the very culinary arts school Brown was attending before he was arrested.

Since the trial, it has been discovered that some of the jurors were not completely honest during their pretrial questioning. Joy Bryant, the forewoman of the jury, never disclosed that her son and Fortner had been close friends in high school. The two boys had even shared a locker. Brown's attorneys found this out during the sentencing phase of Brown's trial. The attorneys approached Judge Dan O'Hanlon about this matter and asked for a mistrial. The judge refused and went forward with Brown's sentencing. Another juror, Brenda Foster, did not disclose that her son, Michael Foster, had been indicted on September 18, 1998, for aiding and abetting in a kidnapping. This indictment was five months before Brown's trial. Prosecutor Chiles never disclosed any information about Foster's indictment during the jury selection even though his signature was on Michael Foster's indictment papers. R. Lee Booten II represented Michael Foster. Mr. Booten was also Fortner's attorney. Brenda Foster never revealed this information either.

On May 13, 1999, Michael Foster's case was transferred to Judge Dan O'Hanlon. On August 27, 1999, Foster pleaded guilty to his charges. O'Hanlon sentenced Foster to three to six years in the West Virginia State Penitentiary, which he suspended, and placed Foster in Forestry Camp with the recommendation that he be sent to the Anthony Center for six-months to two years. On September 21, 1999, Brenda Foster wrote Judge O'Hanlon a letter telling him her son could not handle being in jail. On December 1, 1999, O'Hanlon once again suspended Foster's sentence and gave him three years of home incarceration with time served. Foster's codefendant, Ralph Morgan, was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in the West Virginia State Penitentiary. Michael Foster certainly received a good "deal" after his mother served on a jury in front of Judge Dan O'Hanlon -- a jury that convicted an innocent man. Brenda Foster, Judge Dan O'Hanlon, and Prosecutor Chris Chiles kept Michael Foster's indictment from Brown's defense team. Foster and Bryant should have NEVER served on Brown's jury. At the very least, Foster and Bryant should have been honest during the jury selection. Brown's attorneys were not afforded the opportunity to select a fair jury because they did not have all the facts about the people in the jury pool. Mrs. Foster and Mrs. Bryant serving on the jury should be regarded as having a serious "conflict of interest."

The state police are supposed to be unbiased and present only the facts in a case. Conveniently, the assistant prosecutor had her husband, a state trooper, giving her the facts. She withheld some of those facts from the defense. For example, Trooper Divita testified that there was a third person, Doss Adkins, living in the Black and Davis house two weeks before the murders. The trooper said that he had interviewed this man but said he had nothing relevant to say about the case; however, the trooper did not tell the defense about this witness. The defense team was never afforded the opportunity to question Adkins to see if he had any information that would have been relevant to Brown's defense. Currently, the whereabouts of Doss Adkins are unknown.

Joe France pleaded guilty to "aggravated robbery" and was sentenced on May 21, 1999, to ten years at a prison work farm in Huttonsville, West Virginia. France's Glock 9mm handgun had been determined to be the murder weapon in the Black and Davis murder case; the only identifiable print forensics found on the gun was the palm print of France himself. The prosecutor never called France to testify in the Brown trial because his statement at the time was that he had not been present during the murders, yet in his guilty plea after Brown's trial, he admits to being the lookout for a robbery gone bad. Remember, it was never proven a robbery had taken place at the crime scene.

Michael Brown was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with a chance of parole in thirty years. He is currently serving his time at the Mount Olive Correctional Facility in Mount Olive, West Virginia. He has never wavered in his assertion that he is innocent.

Judge Dan O'Hanlon discussed Brown not appealing his case with Brown's attorneys. He told them that if Brown did not appeal, and if he would admit his guilt in the murders, he would run Brown's sentence concurrently, thereby giving Brown the possibility of parole in fifteen years. Brown declined the offer and said he would never admit guilt for something he did not do. Brown's case is currently up for appeal in the West Virginia Supreme Court. On October 3, 2000, the court heard an oral argument by Brown's appellate attorneys that persuaded them to hear the case. Brown's appellate attorneys feel there was egregious error in this case and they have composed an extensive appeal.

Brown has had a lot of support from his family, friends, and the community. On April 23, 1999, a petition was presented to Judge Dan O'Hanlon consisting of 648 signatures that had been collected over a two- week period. The petition asked the judge to overturn Brown's conviction or grant him a new trial. All those who thought Brown was innocent signed the petition. Judge O'Hanlon said the petition was a waste of his time and sent a message to the Brown family telling them to quit having people write him letters about Brown being innocent. He said he did not have the time for such foolishness. The Brown family asked no one to write the letters to the judge. The people of the community took it upon themselves to contact him and express their opinion about Brown's innocence. I am Mike Brown's sister, Susan Brown Long, and if it takes me the rest of my life, I will seek justice for my brother. He is an innocent young man who was unjustly convicted by a very corrupt system.

Michael E. Brown #26137
One Mountainside Way
Mount Olive, WV 25185

Contact:
Susan Brown Long
CSLONG@prodigy.net

Justice Denied

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