Maybe, or maybe not

Posted: Apr 30, 2006 12:05 AM

A man's life hangs in the balance. Whose judgment do you trust, twelve duly appointed jurors or one lone blogger?

Normally, I'd say "the jury," but in the case of Cory Maye things may not be what they seem.

Cory Maye is a 25-year-old Mississippian on death row. He was convicted of murdering a police officer during a raid on his Prentiss, Mississippi duplex apartment in 2001. He pleaded self-defense, but the jury impounded for the case in neighboring Marion County didn't buy his plea, and the judge sent him away to be executed instead.

It's not certain he will die by lethal injection, though, since he is preparing to petition for a new trial. But it is certain that officer Ron W. Jones is dead. Though the officer wore a bulletproof vest, one of the three bullets that Maye fired in the dark hit below the vest; that bullet proved fatal.

Cory Maye has expressed his sorrow at the shooting, and his respect for the officer he shot. But he does not consider himself a murderer, and he feels the injustice. "We as citizens sit back and say well this would never happen to me," Cory wrote a supporter. "But truth be told it's happened before and if we don't take a stand it's gonna continue to happen."

Maye's prospect for a second trial is not the result of his own writing, however. Had not a certain blogger picked up the story and publicized the case, Maye would lack not only a Wikipedia entry, but any hope of exoneration. The blogger's name is Radley Balko, and his blog is The Agitator — which is certainly named in the blogosphere spirit. Before Balko's blogwork, Maye was just another black man on death row.

Now he's widely believed to be something more than that: another American victim of racism and outrageous abuse of police power.

Obviously, Balko's posts on The Agitator have agitated a significant portion of the blogosphere, with bloggers from across the political spectrum coming to Maye's side in the case.


Well, it's not just because Balko's no ordinary blogger, being an employee of the Cato Institute and a columnist for Fox News and all. Mainly it's because the facts almost scream out for themselves. The case has a distinct odor.

First, there's the issue of self-defense. According to Maye's testimony, he was awakened from sleep when someone burst into his apartment by forcing open the back door. Maye fired three times when that someone entered. Then he heard screams of "Police!" and laid down his gun.

At trial, the police said they had shouted their identity before entering. Also at trial, one officer admitted he couldn't hear much of anything that happened outside from inside the apartment.

It turns out that Mr. Maye wasn't even named on the warrant. His neighbor in the duplex, Jamie Smith, was. The police claim to have legally obtained permission to search both apartments, but since Maye wasn't named on the warrant it is obvious that the police work here was spotty at best. Maye was probably not even on the police's radar — he and his girlfriend and their daughter had moved in not long before. Since Smith had been captured before Officer Jones entered Maye's apartment, there's no reason to believe that Jones shouted anything — after all, the subject of the search warrant had already been nabbed. There's also reason to believe that Ron Jones entered Maye's apartment thinking it was an alternate door to Smith's; nighttime raids can be confusing.

Reviewing the case, I've little reason to doubt Maye's story. Awakened in the night by someone storming into your house, what would you do?

Of course Maye shot the intruder.

As is his right.

Police, when rushing into homes, take their lives into their own hands. No-knock raids are dramatic, and years of television shows portraying criminals rushing to flush drugs down toilets have prepared us to accept such horrendous erosion of civil liberties. One's home is supposed to be secure from such outrageous violence. That's one reason for constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. And that's one reason we have a right to bear arms. But with the drug war, many Americans have come to accept, albeit reluctantly, quite a lot of reductions in their liberties. And quite a lot of violence.

Jones was the officer who got the original tip that one Jamie Smith was selling marijuana from his apartment. He handed over the tip to the narcotics squad, and was then let in on the bust. Unfortunately, he is unable to testify, so we cannot now clear up what he knew about Smith or what he suspected of the inhabitant of the other apartment in the duplex, if anything.

But, from police reports and testimony, Jamie Smith is said to have been found with a huge quantity of marijuana in his apartment (you can only flush so much — especially with these confounded low-flush toilets mandated by Congress).

But we also learn that Jamie Smith was never charged with this crime.

Further, Jamie Smith is nowhere to be found. He was not a witness in the trial. In fact, he's disappeared, and does not seem to be on any wanted list.

The odor you smell? Not burnt weed. That, friends, is the stench of a cover-up.

But the missing target of the original search is just the tip of the fiery cinder block. It gets worse. The original public defender, Rhonda Cooper, mounted a pathetic case. Several jurors interviewed afterwards admitted that dislike of Ms. Cooper's closing statement, with her use of a threat of hellfire, was a deciding factor in turning against Maye, as was their belief that Maye was "spoiled" by his mother and grandmother. Understandably, Maye's family fired Ms. Cooper.

Bob Evans, public defender for the town of Prentiss, was warned by town officials not to represent Maye in his appeal. Evans didn't obey, and he got fired . . . by the town. Evans relates that Mayor Charlie Dumas told him that representing Maye was the reason. Evans is now Maye's private attorney.

I don't have space to tell you how much weirder it gets, though in all honesty I should mention that while Maye himself had a clean rap sheet (free even of misdemeanor charges), the .38 he used had been reported as stolen a year earlier. He said a friend had given it to him.

The main point remains, however. Maye was not guilty of Smith's crimes. It's quite possible that he was guilty of nothing more than defending himself and his daughter.

So Maye looks innocent to Balko, and to bloggers across the Net.

But in Mississippi?

Well, Maye is a black man. Jones was a white officer. And Jones was also the son of Prentiss's chief of police.

The conclusions almost draw themselves.