Junk Justice: Stolen Time, 10 Years For Crime He Didn’t Commit

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Part One of Two
How would you feel after spending 10 years, 3 months and 11 days in prison for a crime you did not commit?  How would you feel, knowing even the judge was aware you were innocent and transcripts from the trial clearly exonerates you? After someone finally realized a mistake had been made and was shocked that you had been sent to prison in the first place—what state of mind would this leave you in?  Don’t answer just yet, read on.

This is a story for heartless District Attorneys, lawyers and judges; for racist cops and prison officers. This is a story for everyone. Every concerned Citizen must read this story.

Curtis Randy Leggett’s fate was put in the hands of a legal aid lawyer named Philip E. Sicks when he was arrested in September of 1992. Two soda delivery men had been allegedly robbed of $2,700 in Brooklyn three weeks earlier. The cops were on the lookout for a Black man and a Latino man. Lord have mercy.

Leggett, now 44, says it didn’t help that John Menso, a white NYPD detective with red hair and red freckles from the 79th Precinct house in Brooklyn had it in for him. Menso had arrested Leggett previously after he had sold fake jewelry to a white customer. The white customer returned a week later with Menso and claimed Leggett had robbed him rather than admit that he had willingly purchased fake jewelry from a street vendor– Leggett was simply trying to earn a living like thousands of vendors, many of whom like Leggett, are unlicensed. Even after Menso and the white accuser testified at trial, Leggett was acquitted, no small feat. “I’m gonna get you on something one day,� Leggett recalls Menso saying.

Many months later, Leggett was heading to sell more cheap jewelry on the streets of Brooklyn, when Menso pulled up with a partner and dragged Leggett into the cop car. He didn’t know what he was being arrested for. Leggett says at the precinct he was cuffed, standing with his right hand outstretched to a pole, while already inside the cell, with his feet barely touching the ground, for at least nine hours. The next morning he found himself cuffed and standing next to a Latino male, also cuffed. “Why am I here?� Leggett recalls asking the court clerk. “They didn’t tell you. There was a robbery three weeks ago—they say you two guys did it together,� Leggett recalls the clerk saying.

“It was the first time I saw this guy,� Leggett says, referring to the Latino, whom he found out was named David Garcia, at trial. He was from the Lower East Side in Manhattan, not Brooklyn, like Leggett. “I did not rob anybody.�

During pre-trial, Leggett turned down two or three different plea bargains from Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes’s office. “I said, ‘No,’ I want a trial,� Leggett recalls. “How could I plea to something I didn’t do. They even kept coming down lower and lower. Would I take four-to-eight years? Then it was would I take three-to-six? The last one my lawyer told me was two-to-four. I refused all of them. By doing this, I think I really upset the judge.�

Trials cost the State lots of money and any defendant who challenges “the system� will pay big come sentencing time. Judge John Delury warned Leggett he faced big time if found guilty. In other words – the judge was saying, “I will throw the book at you boy.�
At one point, when jurors were not present Judge Delury said to Sicks, Leggett’s lawyer, according to transcripts: “If you are going to hang, you might as well hang good.� Throw the book he did— Leggett was convicted and sentenced to eight-and-one-third to 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

This is the kind of junk justice that has sent thousands of innocent defendants to prison.  Forget about what the judge’s remarks for a moment and try to swallow this one. When one of the alleged robbery victims was asked to identify the Black robber involved, he walked around the courtroom, past Leggett, who was seated next to his attorney and shook his head. “He walked past me twice,â€? Leggett recalls. When told by prosecutors to take his time and look again, the victim said, and transcripts show, “No, the Black man is not in the courtroom.â€?

It is important to note, the Brooklyn DA had to prove this case against Leggett, “beyond a reasonable doubt,� and from the court’s own transcript, that was not done. The system was looking for a Black and a Latino to convict – even when the evidence wasn’t there, it had to be there. Any Black man would do. Calls to reach Judge Delury, Det. Menso and attorney Sicks weren’t successful.
Leggett barely survived with his life while in prison. He was locked up at Downstate Correctional Facility, then Sing Sing, then Green Haven Maximum Security, then Fishkill and, then Mid-Orange, fueling the Upstate economy at every stop. “I was with real hardened criminals. These were men who were serving long terms – life. They didn’t have anything to live for,� recalls Leggett. “For an inmate to cut or stab another inmate over a telephone or any little thing meant nothing.� This is the life behind the prison walls, where so many who are innocent and bitter have lost hope.

The prison system also doesn’t value the life of Black men as Leggett discovered. Leggett once stepped on a needle and it broke inside the ball of his left foot. He was seen the same day at a prison clinic and X-rayed. He was told he would be taken to an outside hospital “right away� to have the needle removed. A week later, he was in unbearable pain and unable to sleep with the foot swollen black. Now he was limping and adjusting his body weight to the right side and hurting his back.

Nearly three weeks later, he was practically insane from lack of sleep and from excruciating pain. Still, he had not yet been taken for treatment. He could no longer bare it and confronted the prison doctor, who was Asian. “I told him please, please, send me out to get this needle out of my foot. He said to me, ‘Listen, you people come down here complaining all the time. Stop crying like a baby it’s only a needle. You going out soon. I doctor. You inmate.’� Leggett reported the encounter and neglect to the prison’s grievance board.

Still, the foot remained untreated. Three weeks went to one month, one month went to two months, two months went to three. Leggett was summoned by the same Asian doctor. Now he was walking with a cane and an open medical shoe because his foot was so huge it could not fit into his boot. “I want to apologize,� Leggett recalls the doctor telling him, “Your paperwork was lost. That’s why the bus didn’t come to get you. Go back to your block, we will call you.�

Three months turned to four, four months turned to five. Leggett couldn’t sleep at night and moaned in pain—the prison authorities sent him to see a psychiatrist. “Instead of treating my foot, they sent me to a shrink,� he recalls.

Leggett’s elderly mother, in her late 50s, flew in from Bennettsville, S.C., to appeal to the authorities on behalf of her son. “‘We have diabetes in the family,’� Leggett says the old lady cried to the prison officials, “‘We don’t want his foot to get amputated.’� The mother left, weeping.

Five months turned to six months. Leggett could barely walk now. They brought another doctor, not to operate on the foot, but to examine his bad back. “The doctor said due to abnormal gait from shifting my body weight, I had damaged my t-11 and t-12 discs in my lower back,� Leggett says. The doctor recommended immediate therapy.

It was after seven months that Leggett was finally taken to an outside hospital to remove the now rusty needle. Luckily his foot was not amputated. Today, he walks with a cane and wears a back brace. “Thanks be to God,� he says.
Yet, this is only half of Leggett’s suffering readers. Let’s visit the rest of his story next week.

The second part of Leggett’s ordeal will be published next week in The Black Star News. Leggett is now represented by attorney Neville Mitchell at (212) 619-2800 and (347) 619-2800. Contact senior columnist Winkfield at Bsnonthespot@aol.com or On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423 if you have a compelling story about injustice. To contact The Black Star News write editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power. “Speaking Truth To Empower.�

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