Group photo, 2008. Ghost organized this powwow, invited all the guests and prepared the food for everyone. He has been a spiritual leader in every prison he has been in.
Written By: Edna Peirce Dixon
I first heard about a man called Ghost Dancer late in the summer of 2013, seven years ago. It was said he had remarkable knowledge of the ancient traditions, culture, language, and history of the Southeastern Creek Indian peoples, a special interest of mine. Ghost Dancer was an inmate in federal prison. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I hoped to learn as much as I could, so I took the chance and initiated contact. As promised, Ghost turned out to be a most kind and generous teacher as well as a spiritual leader and a warrior for human rights. His full name was Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer, aka James Keith Johnson.
In time our e-mail discussions turned to our personal religious beliefs. I was surprised that he was familiar with the peculiar ideas of my Quaker ancestors, more or less the foundation of my personal spiritual journey. We found common ground and a trusting friendship began – I called us the Warrior and the Crone. Ghost invited me to serve as his spiritual advisor, which would open the door for me to visit him in prison. Soon my husband, daughter and I went for a visit so we could meet and look one another in the eyes. In the years thereafter, I came to know the man, his history, and to respect the personal meanings of his warrior names.
An R.N. by profession, I immediately recognized the seriousness of Ghost’s physical disabilities, that he is wheelchair bound with limited use of his arms and legs and that he has been partially deaf all his life. Over the years, we would have the need to discuss details of his medical history and numerous illnesses in real time. He asked me to take custody of all his medical records and with them, came his criminal records as well, extending all the way back into the 1970’s. This sizable accumulation was shipped to me. In time I would organize and study every document.
Even though my intent was never to pry into Ghost’s private life, the reasons for his incarceration became a part of our conversation, at least in bits and pieces. I learned for a fact that he had never been accused or convicted of what I would consider to be a heinous crime, so it really didn’t matter much to me that I only held bits of the puzzle. What did matter was the emotion I heard in his voice whenever we spoke about his convictions. At first this made me uneasy, but I soon recognized this as a desperate effort to articulate his deepest frustrations and to simply be heard. He pleaded not guilty at his trials and has continued to plead not guilty through more than a quarter-century in federal prison. In time I would learn of the many contributing factors to the man’s lifelong struggles and frustrations through many trials and encounters within the mental health and criminal justice systems that led up to his conviction and punitive sentence. I see through the bravado, the cheerful façade he wears to cover his physical and mental suffering, and there is no doubt about the sincere remorse he feels for the suffering he has caused the people he loves so much.
The efforts I made to understand this man and his struggles touched me, changed my complacent attitude toward the criminal justice system as a whole, and inspired this elder, now nearly 82 years, to learn all I could. When I was a girl, we lived on a country road in middle Georgia. I did my best to care for a steady stream of stray animals dumped off to starve. These experiences made me angry and seriously impacted my fundamental opinion of the human race. Mother always said I was the champion of the underdog.
My entire life has been a learning process, questioning everything, and it still is. My contact with Ghost Dancer led me to become an active participant in the movement for much-needed reforms at every level of the criminal justice system. My eyes have been opened to a world I could never have imagined, and I find myself indeed to be a champion of the underdog.
My first exposure to the concept of wrongdoing within the criminal justice system came early on in my relationship with Ghost Dancer when I discovered an appalling account of his crimes and convictions on the internet written by former Mississippi prosecutor, Mr. John Hailman in 2014. I made no secret of my friendship with Ghost and some of my friends saw this account as well. All hell broke loose. I was publicly rebuked and even some long-time trusted friends turned their backs on me when I stood up for myself and refused to walk away from Ghost.
It would take years for me to piece together Ghost Dancer’s story and fully understand how Hailman had manipulated a few facts, twisting them into a fictional tale that belies the truth. No matter how celebrated Mr. Hailman may be in Oxford, Mississippi as a federal prosecutor, law professor, journalist and writer, this much I know, he is no William Faulkner. To the depths of my soul I find the whole concept of a trusted public servant, an officer of the court, capitalizing on the suffering of others for his own self-aggrandizement to be an abomination.
As I would later learn, in the American criminal justice system, the prosecutor has almost limitless power over those accused of a crime with very little oversight or accountability. Only a man who had never been held accountable for his actions during a 30-year career as a prosecutor would have the gall to write such humiliating stories about people whose fate he had near total control over. Now, with the insights I have gained, I am better prepared to challenge Prosecutor Hailman’s article about Ghost Dancer and offer my considered opinion exposing the role Mr. Hailman played in what I believe to have been a calculated and deliberate miscarriage of justice.
As seen on the Internet:
John Hailman’s From Midnight to Guntown: Thunder Eagle
January 6, 2014
As a federal prosecutor in Mississippi for over thirty years, John Hailman worked with federal agents, lawyers, judges, and criminals of every stripe. In From Midnight to Guntown, he recounts amazing trials and bad guy antics from the darkly humorous to the needlessly tragic.
In addition to bank robbers–generally the dumbest criminals–Hailman describes scam artists, hit men, protected witnesses, colorful informants, corrupt officials, bad guys with funny nicknames, over-the-top investigators, and those defendants who had a certain roguish charm. Several of his defendants and victims have since had whole books written about them: Dickie Scruggs, Emmett Till, Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, and Paddy Mitchell, leader of the most successful bank robbery gang of the twentieth century. But Hailman delivers the inside story no one else can. He also recounts his scary experiences after 9/11 when he prosecuted terrorism cases.
John Hailman was a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oxford for thirty-three years, was an inaugural Overby Fellow in journalism, and is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Thomas Jefferson on Wine from University Press of Mississippi.
Here is the eleventh installment of Midnight to Guntown by John Hailman: Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer Launders His Loot
James Keith Johnson was a veteran incompetent bank robber. His main claim to fame was his use of the fake but colorful pseudonym “Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.” He was white with no Native American roots, but apparently just liked the name. He robbed two banks in north Florida on successive days in March 1995. As he was escaping from each bank, dye packs given him by the tellers exploded. Because the money was stained red by the dye, Ghost Dancer drove all the way to two casinos in Faraway Tunica to “launder” the money by feeding the red money into slot machine bill validators and “cashing out,” in effect exchanging dirty bills for clean ones. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Several people at each casino observed Ghost Dancer playing the slots. At Fitzgerald’s he hit a jackpot, winning $1,600 at a slot machine. Because of tax reporting requirements, casino employees made an IRS report of his gambling winnings. He foolishly used his real name, “James Keith Johnson” and his real social security number. The next day’s “soft count” of currency found several thousand dollars in red dye-stained money. Both casinos reviewed their videotapes for anyone having a connection to the red-stained money. Both soon identified a man and woman who matched the descriptions of Ghost Dancer and his girlfriend [Name omitted] playing slots where the red dye bills were discovered and taking large amounts of tokens to the cashiers.
Ghost Dancer testified at trial to both his gambling methods and his past legal entanglements, which included being in prison most of his adult life “for protecting women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.” He also claimed he was shot “through both eyes” by a sniper in Alabama, that he was the personal bodyguard for a U.S. Magistrate, and had suffered 72 broken bones while being “roasted” by federal agents. Strangely, he denied he was crazy. He claimed he was a registered Shaman for the Creek Indian Federation. The trial judge rejected his request to be allowed to enter the courtroom for trial in “a cloud of ritual smoke.” The judge also rejected Ghost Dancer’s proposed alibi witness, Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest I had recently convicted (see Chapter 5). The judge sentenced Ghost Dancer to five years on top of his two lengthy Florida sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed and Ghost Dancer was through dancing for many years.
Line by Line – Prosecutor Hailman Exposed:
Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer Launders His Loot
James Keith Johnson was a veteran incompetent bank robber. His main claim to fame was his use of the fake but colorful pseudonym “Thunder Eagle Ghost Dancer.”
TRUTH: Hailman begins with a hearsay statement and announces his own ignorance, hate, and prejudice with an asinine remark about Ghost’s name. The fact is Ghost’s names have rich personal meaning to him. So meaningful, in fact that he had legally changed his name several years before.
He was white with no Native American roots, but apparently just liked the name.
TRUTH: This remark about Ghost’s American Indian roots is an outright fabricated lie. The fact is, there are few if any full-blood Creeks living in the Southeast today, but that does not change who they are. Following the removal of the Creeks and related peoples from their Southeastern homeland in the 1830s, laws were passed in several states that discriminated against Indians who avoided removal. In the old days, mixed heritage families hid their true identity for fear of having their property stolen or being forced to leave their homeland. Many mixed heritage descendants living today have very different physical appearance than their distant ancestors. In the 1980s, Ghost’s father, mother, and grandmother gave sworn testimony and evidence of his Native blood lines and this was accepted as proof by a federal judge. As Mr. Hailman so aptly demonstrates, prejudice against these descendants who openly identify with their Native heritage is endemic still today all over the Southeast.
He robbed two banks in north Florida on successive days in March 1995.
TRUTH: Hailman knows that Ghost was accused and convicted. He only assumes Ghost actually committed the crimes. All he really knows is that Ghost won a jackpot and a few small marked bills from one of the robberies turned up in the slot machine he played. This coincidence was very convenient for the FBI who had no clue who actually robbed those banks.
As he was escaping from each bank, dye packs given him by the tellers exploded. Because the money was stained red by the dye, Ghost Dancer drove all the way to two casinos in Faraway Tunica to “launder” the money by feeding the red money into slot machine bill validators and “cashing out,” in effect exchanging dirty bills for clean ones. It didn’t quite work out that way.
TRUTH: Hailman made up this scenario to fit his narrative! The first time Ghost went to a Mississippi casino, he and his wife had been travelling on the way home from a trip to Arkansas to dig crystals. One of the creative ways the couple made their living was digging and selling crystals. The work was hard, but profitable. They stopped at the casino early in the morning for coffee and a bite to eat. Ghost played the slots for a bit while they ate, and he won some money. Hailman more than implies they were there to launder red-dye stained bills, but the fact is, there was nothing irregular ever found in the one and only machine Ghost played.
Sometime later, Ghost and his wife decided to make a special trip to another casino so he could try out a theory he had on how to win a jackpot. This is when they went to Fitzgerald’s. The fact is, Ghost only played one machine the entire day and only a few low denomination marked bills from one of the Florida banks were found in that machine. Source: Testimony from trial transcripts.
Several people at each casino observed Ghost Dancer playing the slots.
TRUTH: Once again, by innuendo, Hailman embroiders the facts misleading the reader to believe there was wrongdoing at the first casino, when in fact he knew none existed. Of course they were observed by staff members at both casinos who served them food and drink and even stood around watching. Source: testimony from trial transcripts.
At Fitzgerald’s he hit a jackpot, winning $1,600 at a slot machine. Because of tax reporting requirements, casino employees made an IRS report of his gambling winnings. He foolishly used his real name, “James Keith Johnson” and his real social security number. The next day’s “soft count” of currency found several thousand dollars in red dye-stained money.
TRUTH: Perhaps the only honest statement in this entire story is that Ghost gave them his “real” name which matched his social security number. That would have been pretty foolish if he were indeed in there to “launder his loot.” Then Mr. Hailman goes on to imply a whopper so egregious one would think it would hurt even a crooked prosecutor’s conscience. The fact is, there were only those few small bills found in the one and only machine Ghost had played all day. There was indeed red dye-stained money found in the casino, but according to testimony from the casino security expert and F.B.I. agent the bills were scattered through 35 to 38 other machines that Ghost did not play. Testimony also revealed that around the same time, red-dye stained money from many different bank robberies showed up in numerous other Mississippi casinos and there was absolutely no evidence that Ghost or his wife were ever in any of these places. Source: testimony from trial transcripts.
Both casinos reviewed their videotapes for anyone having a connection to the red-stained money. Both soon identified a man and woman who matched the descriptions of Ghost Dancer and his girlfriend [Name omitted] playing slots where the red dye bills were discovered and taking large amounts of tokens to the cashiers.
TRUTH: Once again, Hailman repeats the lying innuendo that red-stained money had been found in the machine Ghost played at the first casino they visited. Furthermore, though there were a few small marked bills in the machine she played, the woman identified by name as was never accused, tried or convicted of committing any crime. To mention her name is both slanderous and hateful. Hailman is simply a bully so full of himself he had no concern for the immense suffering he caused this innocent woman just because he could.
In this next part, Hailman went to great lengths to ridicule Ghost for a number of statements he made in the courtroom. For what purpose Hailman highlighted these statements I do not know other than to demonstrate his implied opinion that the man was “crazy.” Though we had talked about these incidents previously, I questioned Ghost specifically trying to get a clear picture in my mind.
Ghost Dancer testified at trial to both his gambling methods and his past legal entanglements, which included being in prison most of his adult life “for protecting women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.”
TRUTH: Even at an early age, Ghost felt pulled to follow the ways of his Creek ancestors. When Ghost was just 14 years old, he heard something on the radio about Native elders gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for a “spiritual awakening.” Knowing his parents would not approve, the headstrong boy planned his trip and without a word to anyone, rode his motorcycle all the way from Alabama to South Dakota. His goal was to meet some of Indian Country’s most revered leaders gathered there and he did indeed sit with the elders including honored Muscogee Creek spiritual leaders from Oklahoma.
This boy knew nothing about the legal implications of the standoff at Wounded Knee between the F.B.I. and leaders of A.I.M., the American Indian Movement. He was never an active part of the standoff, but he did meet the principal leaders and got caught up in the drama. Amid the chaos Ghost became convinced of the direct threat to the women and children at Pine Ridge. He believed it to be his duty as a warrior to do what he could to protect them as if they were each and every one his family. As he explained to me, in his naiveté he believed he was saving the world. In the eyes of the federal government he would become a marked man and indeed would pay a very high price for years to come.
He also claimed he was shot “through both eyes” by a sniper in Alabama, that he was the personal bodyguard for a U.S. Magistrate, and had suffered 72 broken bones while being “roasted” by federal agents. Strangely, he denied he was crazy.
TRUTH: A few years after Ghost took that trip to South Dakota, he once again made a bad decision and got in trouble with the law. He served his sentence and later went to work for the State Trooper’s office in Hamilton, AL doing maintenance and repairs on official vehicles. While at work, he was hit in both eyes by fragments when a sniper with a grievance against the troopers fired into the compound. Ghost was taken by State Troopers to the Helen Keller Eye Institute for treatment. He still bears the scars. At another time, while on work-release in Florida, Ghost did indeed work as the personnel body guard of a retired U.S. Magistrate. And yes, the F.B.I. was still stalking him too. Furthermore, to suggest someone whose world view is different is “crazy” as Hailman has done shows ignorance and hatefulness. To ridicule anyone who truly is mentally ill is perverse and pathetic.
He claimed he was a registered Shaman for the Creek Indian Federation. The trial judge rejected his request to be allowed to enter the courtroom for trial in “a cloud of ritual smoke.”
TRUTH: Ghost was and still is recognized as a spiritual leader, healer and counselor by many Creeks and Natives of many Nations, both outside and inside prison. Hailman’s “cloud of ritual smoke” is a crude way of describing a near-universal and time-honored ceremonial burning of a small bit of sage or cedar to purify and send prayers to the Creator. To a spiritual Native person, this would be an appropriate request in the circumstances. This particular choice of words serves to illustrate Hailman’s ignorance and insensitivity to cultural practices foreign to him.
The judge also rejected Ghost Dancer’s proposed alibi witness, Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest I had recently convicted (see Chapter 5).
TRUTH: When I asked Ghost who this Danny Schertz was he told me the guy was a prisoner at the Oxford jail when he got there. They were not formerly acquainted. When Ghost told Schertz what he had been arrested for, Schertz and several other inmates told him about another inmate named Ron Maxwell who had been bragging to everyone about all his bank robberies and going to the casinos.
Curiously, Hailman never mentions this Maxwell who did indeed admit to robbing the two Florida banks and did indeed offer an alibi, but specifically mentions Danny Schertz, aka “Snakeman,” a Satanist priest. This elaboration is so damning it effectively plants a seed in the minds of gullible readers that Ghost was himself somehow involved in some evil satanic cult. Little wonder my former friends were so outraged believing I was somehow consorting with the devil.
This slick innuendo would be my first taste of the ruthlessness of some prosecutors. I would later learn much more about the power prosecutors hold and I would discover their motives are not always to seek truth and justice, just as the motives of a public defender are not always to vigorously defend the accused.
The judge sentenced Ghost Dancer to five years on top of his two lengthy Florida sentences. The Court of Appeals affirmed and Ghost Dancer was through dancing for many years.
TRUTH: Clever little ending, but Hailman’s conclusion isn’t true either. What Prosecutor Hailman fails to understand is that Ghost has never stopped dancing… You can lock a man in cell, but you cannot imprison his mind. To “dance” is be alive in spirit, to grow, to be productive, to honor all of creation, and to be of service to others – to be Ghost Dancer.
From the Crone’s Kitchen Table – the rest of the story:
Once records of both of Ghost’s trials came into my hands, I studied every scrap of evidence and testimony as well as the notes and reports made by other advocates and investigators long before my time. Many thoughts came to mind.
If the Judicial Oversight Committee in Washington, read even the Mississippi Grand Jury transcripts they would be shocked. The F.B.I. ran and coordinated the entire investigation for both trials and the testimony of the federal agent in MS about the Florida robberies clearly prejudiced the grand jury. Mr. Hailman most certainly knew this from reviewing all the records or should have. Even an F.B.I. agent is only allowed to testify to what they have personal knowledge of, not hearsay or what they think or believe!
Among the records in my possession is a hand-written letter Ron Maxwell sent to Mr. Johnson’s attorney in Florida describing in detail how and why he had robbed the two banks in Tallahassee and Panama City and passed off the bills at a number of casinos in Mississippi. I find it curious that Mr. Maxwell’s testimony in Mississippi was so easily dismissed by the prosecution who got Maxwell to say he had trouble with telling the truth. Perhaps it’s cynical of me, but after learning about the rampant misuse of plea bargaining, I really wonder what kind of deal Ron Maxwell was offered to shut up. The F.B.I. of course provided his alibi.
In fact, discrediting every one of Ghost’s witnesses seemed to be a cinch in both trials. The alibi testimony of every single defense witness was nit-picked to the bone by the equally egregious prosecutor in the Florida trial, making seven valid witnesses look like so many idiots and liars willing to perjure themselves in a court of law and all the while counsel for the defense sat silently by. I wonder why some other witnesses who could offer irrefutable proof were never even questioned or felt so intimidated after a visit from the G-men they were afraid to testify.
At trial, the testimony of several prosecution witnesses bore little resemblance to initial police reports or investigative best practices while blatant misrepresentations and untruths were blithely explained away, unchallenged by the defense. There are also a few curiosities in the records of witness testimony that changed from one trial to the other including a casino employee who personally cherry picked a segment of security tapes showing Mr. Johnson to present as evidence but did not account for the remainder of the tape that may also have contained valuable evidence. How can that be?
Maybe I’m naïve and I’ve watched too many Matlock reruns, but at a fundamental common-sense level, I really must wonder about all this and some glaring omissions I’ve noticed. In Florida, police reports of actual witness statements about the get-away car were varied, vague and inconclusive. But at least one witness came forward who had actually stood close by and watched the robber get in his car. She could give an accurate description of the man and the vehicle, but for some reason this woman was never called to testify. She even physically showed up at trial and approached the attorneys outside the courtroom during a recess. This woman was overheard by people nearby loudly insisting they had the wrong man.
So how can it be that at in this mere 2-day trial, a photo of the vehicle belonging to Ghost’s wife was presented to the jury and identified as the robber’s actual getaway car? In truth, the police report clearly identified several witnesses who had seen the robber running with red smoke streaming out of the pouch he carried, but this very vehicle had never been impounded or even inspected by forensic investigators for evidence of red dye! So what am I missing here? Wouldn’t examining that car have been a critical part of the investigation to determine the suspect’s actual guilt or innocence? Could this entire scenario be a glaring example of F.B.I. manipulation, prosecutor misconduct, and ineffective defense counsel? Perhaps counsel for the defense was too intimidated himself and this is why he flat refused to “throw dirt on law enforcement.” Did the public defender’s ambitions for his career and future judgeship take precedence over justice for his client?
Over in Mississippi, something else strikes me as odd. Not saying that I’m an expert on criminal behavior, but it seems to me that if I were going into a casino with the intention to launder thousands of dollars of stolen dye-stained bills, I would want to keep a low profile and not attract attention to myself. But from what I understand, the day Ghost won that jackpot, he entered the casino all decked out in his Native regalia, replete with jewelry and wearing boots that increased his normal 6’ 4” another couple of inches. No wonder, as the testimony states, the staff were all standing around for hours watching this flamboyant giant play that one single machine and giving him great service for those generous tips. Surely the security cameras were trained on him every second as well, so nothing he did could have escaped observation.
And there’s that other small matter Mr. Hailman failed to mention – according to testimony, in addition to the few small marked bills later found in Mr. Johnson’s machine, there were also stolen bills – lots of them – found in as many as 38 other machines he did NOT play and in many other casinos he never visited. Mr. Hailman did get one thing right though, it would be pretty dumb for a criminal to actually give his correct identification information! Could it possibly be Ghost Dancer really was just there to enjoy the day with a plan and intent to beat the odds against winning a jackpot as he said at trial? Could the failure to point this out also be the result of indifferent, uninspired and ineffective defense counsel?
These are the musings of one disillusioned old woman and I really owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Hailman for helping open my eyes. Before I made the effort to educate myself, I had no clue that lady justice has a few more covert ways to balance the scales than most everyday folk realize. Here was an ex-con out on parole, who maybe came across as bit too self-assured, who was deemed not too bright, certainly weird or even crazy and otherwise unfit to exist in respectable society. His profile was certainly still on the FBI radar since he was a kid and got himself tangled up with A.I.M. and a few related scrapes with the law. What a perfect set up to tie up a lot of dead ends for the investigators and put this troublemaker away for good. That’s kind of similar to what happened to a certain Jewish rabbi some 2000 years ago, so it’s hardly a new idea.
Even these untrained eyes can see a lot of contrived evidence & dubious testimony but no irrefutable proof that Ghost was in any way connected to those back robberies. The two key witnesses who positively identified Ghost as the man in the bank security video were not the bank employees. One was a former female parole officer Ghost had filed a complaint on for unprofessional conduct. She was presented in court as a woman who knew Ghost intimately. His actual parole officer who did know Ghost very well, would not make a positive identification from the bank’s security video and was not called to testify. The other was a bank customer who just happened to walk into the bank at the same moment the robber was about to run out. In his haste, the robber had dropped some $20 bills and the witness only saw him bent over reaching for them. The witness clearly saw the $20 bills and noted to color of the man’s shirt in that two-second encounter, but he did not see the robber’s face. Yet at trial he positively identified Ghost as the robber. The bank employees themselves gave conflicting testimony and none could be sure of their identification. The robber shown in the video was clearly shorter and heavier than Ghost and wore a long pony tail. Ghost was tall and thin with short, curly, even bushy hair.
Photo: Ghost shows his stepfather crystals he had dug from an Arkansas mine during the 15 months he was free on parole. 1994-95
These are all things that baffle a curious old crone. Even if the entire criminal justice system has forgotten that sacred rule, “beyond a shadow of a doubt” amid all the high-sounding official legalese, I most certainly have not. Only a few small bills were found in the one machine Ghost played for hours. Yet somehow the F.B.I. managed to tie it all together and pin the whole sordid mess on one hapless “crazy” who claimed he was innocent from the get-go and fought like a bear against all odds trying to prove it. I’m told that in the vernacular of the crime world that is called being railroaded.
Photo: Ghost 1994, during the 15 months he was free on parole before his arrest.
According to The Innocence Project, there are an estimated 20,000 innocent people locked up in our state and federal prison system at taxpayer expense because of incompetency and corruption at every level of the criminal justice system. Not a day goes by that I do not read at least one news story about someone who has been exonerated after decades of their lives have been stolen from them.
So thanks to Hailman bragging about his triumphs, I was given a rude introduction into the dark side of American justice. As a result, quite aside from my association with Ghost Dancer, I determined to find out what I had been missing. So I subscribed to or joined a number of criminal justice reform activist organizations, including The Marshall Project, The Innocence Project, FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), Justice Action Network, Restorative Justice Information Exchange, The Failing U.S. Justice System, and others, all dedicated to righting wrongs, educating people about the myriad abuses, and seeking reforms to make our criminal justice system more just and fair. What an education this turned out to be.
Once a person learns a truth, that knowledge can never be unlearned! Not that everyone should be condemned, I’m not suggesting that, but after learning the extent of corruption and misconduct inherent in the system, from the Congress, Department of Justice and F.B.I. on down through the state and federal courts and prison industrial complex, there can be no such thing as turning a blind eye or remaining complacent about wrongdoing. As for Mr. Hailman, what he did writing this twisted story may be legal in the eyes of the law, and perfectly acceptable in the culture of provincial Mississippi, but by no measure can it be deemed ethical. From my kitchen table, I would humbly suggest that justice for all the innocent people Prosecutor Hailman has hurt can only be served if he issues a public apology and maybe cools his heels for a few months in one of those infamous hell-hole Mississippi prisons.
Basically conservative, I’ve never been much interested in the game of politics. Whatever happens in Washington has little impact on my day-to-day life. In these contentious times, however, I cannot help but note the political chaos and the key supporting role of the F.B.I. Frankly, I see little difference between the manipulations of truth at the highest levels of government manifesting right before our eyes and the dearth of solid evidence in the F.B.I.-run convictions of James Keith Johnson back in 1995. Investigating complicated old cases like his would be extremely expensive, therefore, The Innocence Project can only afford to accept cases that can be resolved by DNA evidence.
My efforts may not have much of an impact for Ghost or in the move for meaningful criminal justice reforms, but in my limited way I try to bring certain realities to the attention of others who may be as naïve and complacent as I was. Even though I am an elder and physically infirm, I am a writer, I have a voice, and I will continue to seek truth and be a champion of the underdog for as long as I have breath. Sometimes I joke that any day I expect the men in black with guns or the men in white with strait jackets to show up at my door – they had just better be wearing a face covering!
As much as I joke and try to be optimistic, I’m actually terrified for I know the cards are stacked against this man’s chances for survival through his very punitive sentence. I have been astounded by some of the foolish, impetuous things Ghost did as a youth and it has pained me to learn details of the enormous difficulties and traumas he coped with from early childhood right up to his coming into conflict with the law. I have explored every facet of the entire story with him and members of his family. I have studied police medical records to learn what he actually did and what was done TO him. I know about the accident when he was hit in the head with a sledgehammer, the brain injury and changes in his personality and behavior that only time could heal. I know about the crimes he was party to as a callow youth, easily influenced and manipulated by people he trusted. I know about the psychiatric consults and the powerful drugs prescribed and administered to him in jails and prisons to control his anxieties, even when he plead guilty to violent crimes he did not commit.
Whatever mistakes Ghost made to screw up his life, I know he does not deserve the harsh punishment that was been heaped upon his head and he does not deserve to die in prison. This one man and Hailman’s exploitation of his tragic story, has changed my attitude toward the system of justice that I had always believed above reproach. What a sad way to end one’s lifelong love of country and faith in the goodness of the American way. Pray God! What have we done?