A Lynching in Alabama
(With permission) by James Centric
Growing up in Ohio in the "60s I watched the Civil Rights Marches in Selma and Birmingham on the national news. Along with footage of flailing police batons and snarling attack dogs were vintage photos of lynchings documenting the struggle of Blacks in the South. I spent a lot of time in the South over the next twenty-five years. I fell in love with the people, the climate and the way of life. When I retired, I settled in my adopted home of Alabama. I reassured my Yankee relatives that Alabama was no longer the state portrayed on the six o'clock news of my youth. Alabama was now my home. Then, in 2006, I saw my first lynching.
The lynching was not engineered by a group of masked, bigoted KKK or an angry White mob in the heat of passion. The noose didn't swing from the limb of an old oak on a tree-studded boulevard outside the local jail. This travesty of justice occurred "all legal like" in a U.S. District Court in Montgomery. The victim was the last Democratic Governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman.
The trial may have appeared a prima facie case for justice, but in reality it was still a lynching. At a glance, you had a trusted underling with his hand caught in the cookie jar. He subsequently flips on his boss and low and behold a dedicated public defender, a federal prosecutor no less, uncovers corruption at the highest level of Alabama politics - end of story, or was it?The Playing Field is Set
Alabama has reached the end of a calculated Republican campaign begun in the 1990's to take over the state. I watched Republican activist Bill Canary, his mentor and close friend former Bush White House Strategist Karl Rove and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue and their acolytes flood the statehouse and the airwaves. Their attorneys, PACs and public relations folks spent more time and money in Alabama than even most Alabama residents. Rove and Donahue used Chamber funds and other corporate sponsor monies to turn the Alabama Supreme Court and appellate court system from Democratic-control to Republican. Couple that with a Republican-emplaced federal legal system overseeing the state and you have the tree and the rope ready for a lynching.The Victim
In November 2002, as I went to bed, Siegelman was
re-elected governor. Morning light brought victory to Republican Bob
Riley and word of a midnight ballot recount in Baldwin County without a single
Democrat observer present. Republican Attorney General William Pryor
immediately sealed the ballot boxes. Wow! Recounts and legal
actions were then stonewalled, most notably by Attorney General Pryor and
ORHP's - other Republicans in high places.
In spite of the state investigations started in 1998 by Attorney General Pryor, 2003 polls still showed that Siegelman had a good chance at regaining the governorship. Then, in 2004, Alice Martin, U.S. Attorney General for the Northern Middle Alabama District, in Birmingham stepped up with an indictment. Siegelman, Dr. Philip Bobo, and Paul Hamrick were indicted in a state Medicare "bid-rigging" scheme. Dr Bobo won a separate trial and the charges against Siegelman and Hamrick were thrown out "with prejudice" by an exasperated federal judge. Dr. Bobo was retried in 2007. Nick Bailey, a former Siegelman aide, was the key witness, but Dr. Bobo was found not guilty.
In early 2005, Siegelman announced his intention to seek re-election. In October of that year, Siegelman was again indicted. This time, the U.S. Attorney General for the Middle Alabama District, Leura Canary, brought 32 charges against Siegelman involving former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. In 2006, he was convicted of bribery, conspiracy, fraud, honest services mail fraud and obstruction of justice charges on seven of those charges. On appeal, two more charges were reversed. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals twice upheld his conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 declined to review the case. In 2012, he was re-sentenced to 78 month in prison; three years supervised release and a $50,000 fine.
The Silence was Deafening.
For a conservative party that hates the liberal press, Republicans know how to play the media like a fine violin. They use the media and Internet to promote their message and foster chaos. I once complained that newspapers should not publish "birther" letters until their authors proved their IQs were above 67, but their constant haranguing serves their purpose - causing death by rumor and innuendo. They are also masters of the sound bite. Terms like "death panels" and death taxes" strike a chord with most plain folks. Above all, their money buys media time and media silence.
I expected to hear loud protests from the Alabama Democratic machine about the Siegelman indictment. I heard nothing. Like birds caught in a hurricane, they all went to ground to avoid the wind and rain. Surely, I thought, the Department of Justice would step in especially once Obama was elected. But they were in damage control mode trying to keep a safe distance away and the problem isolated in Alabama.
By 2010, I was so frustrated I wrote a letter to the president, my only presidential letter, ever. I requested President Obama expedite the appointment of a new U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, one whose office would not foster "a perception of political bias." However, mindful of the press backlash about the midnight Justice Department mass firings of Democratic federal attorneys by the Bush Administration coupled with Obama's then naivete about maintaining "transparency" and, I still firmly