Last summer, after an exhaustive investigation into a “was it murder or was it suicide” case in southern Alabama, I wrote a 5,000-word “true crime” type of feature story in the AmSpec print edition showing that the accused murderer, local political star Stephen Nodine, almost certainly did not pull the trigger, and that he had been, in effect, framed for the crime. At the time, nobody else in print had reached such a near-definitive conclusion. Well, with CBS’ “48 Hours” about to air a big segment on the case in a few weeks, one of my former colleagues at the Mobile Press-Register, the superb reporter Brendan Kirby, has done a terrific piece showing just how outrageously the local prosecutors and sheriff interfered in the normal course of the investigation, in order to force what was about to be labeled a suicide to instead by labeled a murder, with Mr. Nodine as the alleged culprit.
As the date of the grand jury session approached, [prsecutor Judy] Newcomb and her team faced a potentially devastating problem. Dr. Eugene Hart, who performed the autopsy, had told law enforcement authorities that the death of Downs was consistent with a suicide.
Such a ruling likely would have severely compromised Newcomb’s ability to get a grand jury to issue an indictment.
Newcomb directed that the victim’s body be sent back to Hart so that he could re-examine some injuries that investigators believe they had found on the fingernails and back of her scalp. The second look, Hart later would testify, did nothing to change his mind.[See the notes
Click here to see the handwritten notes of a meeting between District Attorney Judy Newcomb and Dr. Eugene Hart on the day of his grand jury testimony.]
Newcomb then arranged a face-to-face meeting with Hart and his boss – then-Chief Medical Examiner Kenneth Snell – on the day Hart was to testify before the grand jury. In the conference room were the two forensic examiners, Newcomb, assistant district attorneys and investigators from her office and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.
Three pages of handwritten notes that current District Attorney Hallie Dixon gave to the defense after she took office suggest that Newcomb pressed Hart for a favorable death ruling.
By “favorable,” the article means favorable to Newcomb’s desired ruling that the death could have resulted from a murder.
Stephen Nodine did not murder his mistress. He was not living an upstanding private life, on several levels, and he seems to have in some ways violated some public trust as well. But conservatives who believe in the cause of justice should insist that nobody be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, nor punished more harshly than would ordinarily be the case for other infractions that either arose only because of the murder trial (perjury on an extreme technicality) or came to light only in the course of the murder investigation (a non-specific “harassment” charge) — especially when the man, for yet another “infraction” that came to light during the investigation, already has served a full year in a federal pen on a charge that is constitutionally suspect.
Now, with this new report by Mr. Kirby (again, here), it is rather evident that Mr. Nodine has been railroaded, and punished more than he deserves. It is now incumbent on Gov. Robert Bentley to commute Nodine’s current sentence (for perjury and harassment) down to time-served, plus some extra community service and probation. Nodine should no longer be behind bars.
That is all.
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