Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted

 

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THE REGISTER GUARD ARTICLE -- Corrections inserted in brackets

July 8, 2002

Editor gives inmates lifeline
By LARRY BACON
The Register-Guard

COQUILLE - The two worlds of Clara Boggs couldn't be more different.

One is a piece of heaven that she and her husband, Chip, a nuclear power plant technician, call the Boggs Homestead - 360 acres of wooded acreage on Rink Creek east of Coquille. There they live a life close to the land, relishing simple pleasures such as watching the sun filter through the forest canopy and breathing in the fresh air. [Not a correction, but to straighten out a misconception. The "simple life" is anything but simple. It requires a huge amount of work. It's "simple" to live in cities where money buys what you need.]

Her other world is one of rape, killing and people doing terrible things to children. Of lives ruined and desperate people behind prison bars with no hope of freedom.

Boggs thrives in both worlds, actually intertwines them, and finds satisfaction in each.

From her idyllic home in rural Coos County, the gravel-voiced former free-lance editor oversees publication of Justice Denied: The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted.

She's been doing it for three years and considers it a lifeline to what she believes are thousands of people in the United States who are innocent of the crimes that sent them to prison - including her 34-year-old daughter.

The magazine gives them a public forum to tell their stories - something Boggs says was never available before.

"It also gives them an avenue of hope," she says. "People write to them. It gives them human contact. And that makes a difference."

A conviction overturned

The next edition of Justice Denied will report a ruling by the Virginia Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of 32-year-old Derek Tice, sentenced in 1997 for two life terms without possibility of parole for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman.

"We could not have done it (attained the court victory) had it not been for Clara and Justice Denied magazine," says Derek Tice's father, Larry Tice, an electrical engineer who lives in Clayton, N.C. "She's just fantastic."

Larry Tice first wrote about his son in the November 2000 issue of Justice Denied. The article attracted the attention of a TV producer who did a documentary that aired repeatedly on the Learning Channel. That led to formation of Derek Tice support groups in several states and even some foreign countries, the father says.

He's convinced that the publicity pressured the Virginia court to toss out his son's conviction. Derek Tice remains in prison while a district attorney decides whether to seek a new trial.

If all goes well, Larry Tice says, the charges will be dropped. His son's conviction, he says, resulted from a coerced confession and a misguided prosecution theory that several people were involved in the crime even though DNA and other evidence indicated that it was committed by only one man who has pleaded guilty and given a detailed confession.

When his son is finally free, Tice says, he plans to join a network of people across the country who work with Clara Boggs to put out the magazine. He isn't sure what help he can offer. "But whatever I can do, I will," he says.

Boggs acknowledges that Tice is the only one of more than 120 people profiled in the magazine whose conviction has been overturned. The magazine is still young and there will be more, she predicts. Some of the other cases have attracted media attention and are on appeal, she says. Boggs knows how tough the fight can be.

A very personal case

The magazine evolved from her battle on behalf of daughter Kriseya Labastida, convicted in 1994 in Nevada of second-degree murder and child abuse in connection with the death of her 7-week-old son the previous year. [Kriseya went to jail in 1992 (also the year the baby died), and was convicted in 1993.]

It's still hard for Boggs to tell the story. She says Labastida was unaware that her domestic partner -- the father -- had been severely abusing the boy.

The baby died of suffocation from a punctured esophagus caused when the father rammed his fingers down the child's throat.

News accounts of the case quoted Labastida as saying she believed his excuses for some of the injuries and didn't notice many of them because he routinely changed the baby's diapers and kept him wrapped in blankets in their poorly heated apartment.

"She's a kind-hearted, trusting person, and that's what got her in trouble," Boggs says.

Never will Boggs forget the hysterical phone call that her daughter made right after she called the ambulance, screaming and sobbing that her baby had stopped breathing.

Boggs and her husband fought for five years before the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction on grounds there was no evidence that Labastida aided in the killing. The court let the abuse charge stand, apparently unconvinced that Labastida couldn't have done more to protect her son. [It took us more than seven years to free Kriseya.]

Labastida, who still lives in Nevada, was paroled after the court ruling. Boggs continues efforts to have the abuse charge dismissed. The baby's father, Michael Strawser, pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. [There was never an abuse charge against Kriseya. The charge was for neglect, and we will soon have a hearing on that charge.]

Fight leads to magazine

Fighting her daughter's fight, Boggs says, made her realize there should be somewhere for people like her and Labastida to turn for help. So she formed the nonprofit Justice Institute to publish the magazine.

Boggs worked long hours on a computer run by power from the solar collectors atop the roof of the small home she and her husband built on their acreage. [The solar collectors are not on top of our house, but in a separate building housing collectors and batteries, as featured in Home Power Magazine, Issue 79, October/November 2000 (www.homepower.com).]

From the start, each issue of the magazine told the stories of a half-dozen people who claim they have been wrongly convicted. The magazine includes editorials, articles about perceived flaws in the American justice system and stories about prisoners who have had their convictions overturned.

It also can generate criticism. One issue contains a rebuttal from a Louisiana prosecutor criticizing an article about a death row inmate as misleading and unfair.

"I hope that in the future you make an effort to verify the facts in your articles so that your audience can read an account of an issue that more closely tracks the real facts," the letter says. [We did have our facts straight on this case, and you may read about it in Volume 1, Issue 6 of Justice: Denied]

But Boggs says she hears more from people who support her cause.

The initial issue in February 1999 generated a tremendous response, she says, along with offers of help from across the country. Now she has nearly 20 volunteers all linked by the Internet, most of whom she hasn't met.

Some write articles. Some help with editing and work on the magazine's Web site. Some help her check facts and court documents. Boggs says she never profiles a convicted person unless she's personally convinced of their innocence. Most of the magazine's cases have come from California, Texas, Virginia and New York. No Oregon cases have been featured so far. [An Oregon case was featured, that of Vincent Padgett, whose mother Pam Eller has become our story coordinator. Also, the JD Team people do not so much "help" me as much as each has his or her own area of expertise and work independently of Clara Boggs.]

Because of computers, Boggs says, she can work just as efficiently from her home in the forest as she could from a big city. Few local people even know about what she does.

Donations help with the magazine's cost. Most readers see it on the Internet. A limited number of hard copy versions get mailed to subscribers.

At first the magazine was published monthly, but the workload forced Boggs to cut back to every two months. A $6,500 grant funded a glossy 48-page special edition last year, and Boggs hopes there will be more grants.

It's common for people who work in the criminal justice system to say that everyone in prison claims innocence. But Boggs doesn't think she's taken in by false claims, and seldom does she turn down publication of a story because of doubts. [Untrue. We have turned down many stories. Our review team thoroughly goes over each story, and if there is no consensus, the story is not published.]

That's because she truly believes that American prisons hold a lot of innocent people.

She quotes U.S. government statistics that say DNA evidence has proven that one-third of prisoners convicted of rape are innocent, that for every seven prisoners executed since 1977, another condemned prisoner is found innocent and released, and that the U.S. incarcerates five times more people per capita than Canada and seven times more than most European countries.

"The justice system is very, very broken in this country," Boggs says.

Eyewitness errors, district attorneys who want to win at any cost, shoddy police work and trumped-up evidence are all factors she says have helped lead to convictions of people she believes are innocent.

Boggs dreams someday of review panels outside the court system to look at questionable convictions and make recommendations to prosecutors and courts for further review.

It will take much more than her magazine, she knows, to change the system.

But for now, she says, she counts it as an achievement if the magazine generates just one letter telling a wrongly convicted prisoner someone believes in his or her innocence.

JUSTICE DENIED MAGAZINE
* More information:
www.justicedenied.org

Copyright 2002 The Register-Guard

Justice Denied

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