In our summer issue, Wlady took a risk by running a long feature of mine of a stye and subject rather unusual for the American Spectator: a sort of "true crime" investigation, with fascinating (at least I thought so) back story about the accused, involving a conservative Republican county commissioner and former Al Haig aide in Mobile, AL, accused of murder. I had followed the case from the start, and when Stephen Nodine got out of prison on another charge and faced a second murder trial (the first resulted in a hung jury), I decided it would make a great human-interest story with a sort of "dual version" format: one scenario where he did murder the woman in question, the other where he didn't. I expected that, due to the unique aspects of the case, it would be unlikely for further investigation to show anything more than a 60-40 likelihood in either direction as to what really happened; my investigation would illuminate the nature of the mystery, I thought, but not definitively solve it.
As you may have seen if you read the piece, my open-minded investigation took me in a different direction: I found that it was highly, highly unlikely that Nodine committed the murder. As there are few things in life more horrifying than the thought of facing a capital murder conviction if you actually didn't commit the crime, it was important that justice be done. Here were some key paragraphs:
So-o-o… she had blood on her gun and on her right hand, and brain matter was all over the scene, but none of it showed up on Nodine, none on his clothes, none on his own hands that would have wiped off anywhere in or on the truck, not even any droplets on the door handle or the steering wheel. Nodine made no attempt to hide anything, gave no evidence of distress (on video cameras in two different places) until exactly the moment when Lawyer Number Two told him by phone that Downs was dead-and he made no attempt to cite the Fifth Amendment or deny law enforcement access to his person or possessions.
Back at Downs' condo, investigators found no signs of struggle. Neighbors who clearly heard the gunshot report hearing no fighting or argument beforehand. Three of four forensic pathologists and psychologists concluded that Downs committed suicide, and the other one's supposition otherwise relied in"defensive wounds" on her hands that, it was later discovered, actually were visible on photos taken that day at the beach, before the two returned to her condo.
Despite all this, prosecutors were pressing ahead with a new murder trial, scheduled to begin on Monday, Sept. 10 -- even though, in an aspect of the story I had not reported, a newly convened grand jury recommended a lesser charge than murder (a really strange one that basically amounted to "emotional coercion into suicide"), presumably because the new jury also thought the facts did not support the theory that Nodine could have pulled the trigger.
Well, the truth will out. Exactly as was indicated in my piece, Nodine had been involved in a couple of ugly yelling incidents with his girlfriend that some might argue amounted to harassment. Yesterday, prosecutors facing the realities detailed in my article finally threw in the towel and accepted the likelihood that they would not succeed in a trial for murder or even for stalking; instead, harrassment was the worst thing (with regard to the deceased, Angel Downs) they could pin on Nodine. Nodine agreed to accept an Alford Plea on a misdemeanor harassment charge, plus plead guilty of perjury for over-stating his indigence in court documents requesting a court-appointed lawyer -- and the prosecutors dropped every charge (not just murder, but stalking) with any direct connection to Downs' death.
Nodine already served 15 months in a federal prison for a very dubious gun charge. (He lost another appeal of that just three days ago, not on the merits but on the quite obvious fact that he had earlier waived his rights to make such an appeal, a waiver that a lower court will almost never disregard.) He still awaits sentencing on the misdemeanor and on the perjury charge. And he has spent more than 27 months being labeled a murderer by prosecutors and facing a potential life sentence for it. He also, of course, resigned his public office, lost all his income, and completely lost his reputation. If indeed he did not commit the murder, which is what my investigation strongly indicated, then he has suffered more than enough for his sins. It seems to me that probation and serious community service would be in order -- but no additional jail time. Rough justice -- very rough -- already seems to have been done.
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