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FREE Shawn Ali! Imprisoned by Texas Injustice: An Innocent Man Behind Bars who is Seeking Legal Assistance and Moral Support I originally started the fight for my exoneration from my cell by writing out my story and mailing over 200 copies of my personal account to various innocence projects, law schools, media affiliates, justice organizations, and individuals. I received many responses back, but I was turned down by every innocence project either because of limited funding, precedence given to inmates with more severe cases (death row/life sentences), or simply because my case requires more effort and investigation (there is NO DNA and NO physical evidence in my case). Finally, after two years of mailing my story off and placing legal ads on prison-oriented websites, New Vision Organization, Inc. has taken my case. However, they need all the technical, investigative, and legal help they can get from volunteers. If you are in a position to help us, PLEASE do what you can. The smallest or most insignificant effort on your part can make the biggest difference in overturning my wrongful conviction and bringing us closer to my exoneration. If nothing else, please share my story and our website with someone else, so more attention can be brought to my wrongful conviction and I can get the justice I deserve.
Written by Shawn Ali Bahrami, TDCJ #747451, 2665 Prison Road #1, Eastham Unit, Lovelady, TX 75851
As I draw back the decadent, discriminative drapes on my current prison predicament, I ask that you look past the stereotypes and stigmas that are associated with the razor-wire fences that cage convicted felons like myself. I ask that you please read this plea with a non-judgmental mind and objective eyes. Please, if nothing else, listen to me, and after reading my story, I hope you are compelled to some sort of action towards helping me attain my ultimate goals: justice, exoneration, and freedom. My name is Shawn Ali Bahrami. My first name, Shawn, represents the Caucasian half of me while my last name, Bahrami, from the Farsi language, represents the Persian half of me. The complexion of my skin is a white, olive tone, and the intentional mention of my race and skin color has great significance in my case and wrongful conviction. I was 17-years-old when I was abducted by a fallible, overzealous Texas (Harris County) judicial system that was aggressively cracking down on gang violence in the mid-1990’s, and I have since spent the equivalent 19 years of my life behind bars for a crime I did not commit. From the beginning of my unexpected arrest, through the “attractive” plea bargain deals presented by the District Attorney (DA), during my trial, and until now, I have maintained my complete and unequivocal innocence. My entire life came crashing down on me in February of 1995 when I was arrested for Attempted Capital Murder and two lesser charges, given a cumulative bond of $750,000 and confined to a high profile, high security cell, where I lived in for 23 ½ hours a day for 15 months. I knew I was innocent, as did my seven alibi witnesses, so I could not begin to grasp how I had arrived in the Houston Harris County Jail facing 5 to 99 years for Attempted Capital Murder, especially after I discovered, upon my own personal investigation, and documented in this story, the intricate, controversial details of my case. No fingerprints. No DNA. No weapon. In other words, NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE except for a similar “prop” gun the DA paraded around the courtroom with to sensationalize her arguments and some bloody photos taken of the victims that the DA conveniently used to stir and sway the juror’s emotions, 11 of which were females. However, the tangled web of the purported facts surrounding my case was woven by far greater and interesting strings of deceit. In all of the original victim’s and witnesses’ statements, it was stated repeatedly by EVERYONE, the African-American victims and the Caucasian bystander witnesses, a couple, that 3 BLACK MALES were in fact the shooters and suspects involved. On the 911 tape, which was played at my trial, the caller, presumably a victim, stated that 3 BLACK MALES had shot and injured several people. The White couple, who were standing close by outside of the house, stated in their original statements that they had witnessed 3 BLACK MALES fleeing the scene of the crime. On top of all this, the gang who was accused of committing the home invasion shooting is a Black gang and membership is exclusive to the African-American race. So how on earth did I, an adolescent with a white skin complexion, get not only mixed up in a case where 3 Black males were the prime suspects, but convicted of the crime? This is the short, abridged version of my story: I am guilty of hanging with members of the aforementioned gang, who were my friends from school and my neighborhood, Alief, a subdivision of southwest Houston, since I was 12-years-old. Spice Lane, a backstreet parallel to Beechnut Street, which consists of a cluster of multiple apartment complexes, was the epicenter of gang violence and drugs on the southwest side of Houston, Texas, and it was where I lived when I initially befriended many of my childhood friends, who later joined the gang accused of committing this crime. As in any social setting, and in the young, developmental stage of my life, I forged friendships, formed lifestyles, and adopted behavior patterns with the kids/teens who I came in closest contact with. Because most of my closest friends were African-American, I immersed myself into the hip-hop culture and sports, not only as a fan, but as a participant, precociously cultivating talents for rapping, dancing, graffiti art, and sports. In school, I showcased my talents in organized sports and talent shows, while I also performed, primarily dancing, outside of school in teen clubs, house parties, and in special community outreach events, such as D.A.R.E. By the time I was 17 and attending Elsik High School, my circle of friends expanded to a greater diversity of different races and cultures, but some of my closest friends I grew up with were members of the accused gang. Admittedly, as is the case with most high school teenagers, we went out, frequented house parties, drank beer, got high, and looked for girls to pick up. On one unforgettable Saturday night in 1995, I attended a house party with some of my gang friends. Being the Saturday night before the Super Bowl was not the reason that day is unforgettable to me; however, my irrevocable choice to attend that house party is the reason why I am incarcerated today. Throughout the house party, I was distinguishable not just because I was hip White guy who was attending an all-Black party, but in addition to my race, I stood out because I rapped freestyle on the microphone and I battle danced with a circle of partygoers that had formed around me. There was a DJ with sophisticated sound equipment who was responsible for the music selections. At some point during the party, Alton Jackson (a.k.a. Blue Devil), my co-defendant, and who was 14-years-old at the time and probably one of the youngest teens in attendance, provided the DJ with some mix tapes to further energize the party. By the end of the party, Alton’s tapes had come up missing, or the DJ did not want to give them back. Either way, a heated argument ensued over the mix tapes and continued after the party, which climaxed into a verbal and shoving altercation in the middle of the illuminated residential street. There was a clustered crowd of close to a hundred people, consisting of 25-30 members of the group I was with, about six of the opposing group, and many independent friends of either the Birthday girl, Candace Sledge, or of other people in attendance. I stood on the side with my group of friends, as did my two African-American co-defendants, Alton Jackson and George Houston, while the DJ and his friends, who were from another area of Houston, stood on the other side. However, the barrier that prevented us from physically clashing were a few responsible adults who had positioned themselves between both sides. Suddenly, gunfire cracked loud into the night air. Everyone instinctively jumped, ducked, and scattered behind the crowded slew of parked cars, and only one person was left standing in the middle of the street: the DJ with his gun pointed to the sky. As engines fired up and cars attempted to flee the cluttered street, the DJ was screaming and cussing, something to the effect of “fuck [gang name].” When I left the party in a hurry, for me personally, the confrontation we had in the street was the end of it, but I would later find out that it was only the beginning. As I arrived at school the following Monday morning, the hottest topic buzzing on the informal news wire in the packed hallways was about the home invasion shooting that had transpired the night prior, on Super Bowl Sunday, which was just ONE DAY AFTER the shooting incident at the party. I didn’t know who, but I had heard that someone in the gang had went back to the same house of the party for revenge. What I first heard at school was later confirmed on the news: several people in the house were shot and severely injured, but fortunately, no one was killed. (The confrontation and gunshots at the party on Saturday night, and the home invasion shooting at the same house on Sunday night are TWO SEPARATE incidents.) On the night of the shooting, Super Bowl Sunday, I attended a small get-together at my Aunt Cheryl’s house. We ate barbecue and watched the game. I even remember working on some of my homework at her dining room table before the game. At least five adults and one child witnessed my presence at the get-together and testified at my trial, including an African-American couple, Diane and Vernon James, who were my Aunt Cheryl Raborn’s neighbors and friends. Darren Williams, my Aunt Cheryl’s common-law husband, also witnessed my presence at their house. Joey Williams, Cheryl’s brother-in-law and Darren’s brother, was at the small get-together and he was the one who took me home. We, Joey and I, left Aunt Cheryl’s house at around 9:45 PM, we made one stop at a convenience store, and when Joey dropped me off at my house, it was about or right at 10:00 PM. The reason I recall the specific time of my arrival to my house was because as I was walking through the door the local nightly ABC news was beginning to air its familiar opening theme music. My Uncle Ali Bahrami and his longtime girlfriend Lisa Metcalf witnessed me walk through the front door when I arrived at home. I remember they were cooking something and asked me if I was hungry, but I told them that I was full from the barbecue. They too testified at my trial. According to the police reports, the shooting occurred, if I recall correctly, at about 9:30 PM because that was around the time the 911 call was made. It should be noted my court appointed attorney, Kurt Gumberger, never established a strict time-line, nor did he matter-of-factly cross-reference the time of my whereabouts with the times of the shooting, when the 911 call was made and when the first officers arrived on the scene. The time correlation between the time I left my Aunt Cheryl’s house and when Joey drove me home with the window of time that the crime occurred, did I assume, raise doubts as to the validity of my alibi witnesses, but when the crime occurred I was still at my Aunt Cheryl’s. During my trial, the DA asked Joey on the stand whether he has witnessed my walk through the door of my Uncle Ali’s house. Joey dropped me off at the entrance gate of my Uncle’s apartment, so he did not witness me walk through the door of my house, but he dropped me off at home around 10:00 PM, my Uncle Ali and his girlfriend Lisa witnessed me walk through the door, so therefore it is not mathematically possible, much less scientifically possible, for me to venture back in time and commit a shooting at or before 9:30 PM, BECAUSE AT 9:30 PM I WAS STILL AT MY AUNT CHERYL’S HOUSE. The bottom line: I attended my Aunt Cheryl’s Super Bowl get-together, Joey drove me home, and Ali and Lisa witnessed me walk through the door-I cannot be in two places at one time. I even made two phone calls at both residences that my lawyer never brought up at my trial, among many other forms of evidence that could have cast doubt on the charges I was being accused of committing. I wanted to disprove my gang affiliation by taking my shirt off and showing my tattoo-less body to the courtroom, but my court appointed lawyer had said it wouldn’t be a good idea. When a single, African-American girl from my school took the stand and said she had heard me bragging about the shooting at the school, I told my lawyer to ask her if her brother was a member of the same gang, who committed the shooting (conflict of interest), which her brother was a known member, but my lawyer refused to attack her credibility. Although I was talking about the shooting just as everyone else-more so because of my connection to the party and the confrontation that occurred at the same house-in a school over 3,000 students, how could she, the witness, say with exact certainty what I was saying in those noisy, jam-packed hallways. Who had put her up to testifying against me? Her brother maybe? One of the actual shooters maybe? The DA or the detectives? Was she helping her victim friend, Candace, get a conviction? After I found out about the shooting at school and on the news that following Monday after the Super Bowl, I pushed the latest neighborhood shooting into my secondary memory and went about school week as I would any other, attending my 10th grade classes with an increasing anticipation to go partying as another Friday was drawing near. What I did not know, during what would be my last week of freedom, was that behind the scenes someone was volunteering my name into the investigation and implicating me in the shooting. The “someone” I’m referring to changed the entire course of the investigation and that someone is why I’m in prison today, with 19 calendar years completed on a 40 year sentence. The “someone” was Alton Jackson, the 14-year-old who was the original source of the argument and altercation at the party, the one with the greatest motive and who the detectives apprehended first. To this day, I do not know why Alton mentioned my name in his statement, a statement that was allegedly articulated and typed by the detectives, a statement that Alton signed without a guardian or a lawyer present because he was instructed-deceived-into thinking it was his release form, a statement that had many drastic inconsistencies when compared to the victim’s statements, a statement that Alton later recanted when he discovered, to his shock, that his purported “release form” he signed was a statement , a statement that was not confirmed orally at my trial because Alton DID NOT testify against me (the DA mentioned the statement). I was not present during Alton’s interrogation with the detectives, so I do not know what took place, however, I do know there is a statement that was signed by Alton and in his statement I was implicated into the investigation. Alton’s statement, the scared word of a 14-year-old, who was under enormous pressure from the detectives to produce names with the attractive potential of being released-or maybe he was “tricked”, I do not know-but Alton’s statement would be like a snowball that was being tossed over the side of a mountain, an investigative snowball that would accelerate and morph out of control, somehow putting a “Hispanic” at the center of the detectives three-Black-suspects investigation, and eventually, Alton’s false statement would lead to my wrongful arrest six days after the shooting and my conviction. Before the ink was dry on Alton’s statement, and while the victims were still recovering in their hospital beds, the detectives, spurred Alton’s statement, had put me in a photo spread line-up-two of the five victims had reportedly picked me out (Photo spread line-ups have been outlawed in Texas since.). But would it have been difficult for them to pick me out? I attended the party at their house the night before the shooting, in all likelihood I was the only White person at the party, my dancing and rapping abilities put me in the spotlight, I even danced with Candace’s, the Birthday girls, friend, and furthermore, I was in the middle of the non-physical confrontation against some of Candace’s male friends from another part of Houston when I stood on the side of my group of friends after the party. In retrospect, it does not surprise me that two of the five victims recognized my distinguishable Winter-paled face in the photo spread line-up (as they remember it from the party). However, if my White face was so recognizable in the photo spread line-up several days after the shooting, why did the victims on the night of the home invasion report initially in ALL of their original statements-while their memories of the crime were fresh and with no influence from the detectives-that 3 BLACK MALES were the shooters. On the night of the home invasion shooting, there was NOT one mention of a Hispanic or White suspect. So I ask, was it because the victims were later influenced by the detectives when they presented the victims with my picture in the photo spread line-up only after Alton provided my name in his statement? Did the detectives tell the victims about Alton’s statement and how Alton confessed that he, George Houston, and I had shot them? Or was it because the actual 3 Black shooters did not attend the party, so the victims had no way of recognizing them, but they did recall my familiar face from the party, a face, regardless of race or skin color, that was on the side of the opposition, and the victims wanted someone to pay for the shot-gun injuries that were inflicted on them? I cannot blame them, for I would want someone to pay, but I’m hoping their idea of vengeance has changed after possibly knowing that an innocent man has been in prison for 19 years. I have heard more than once from guys from my neighborhood who I have run into in the Texas prison system that at least two of the younger victims (who, like me, are in their 30’s now) know I did not commit the shooting against them, but they went along with the pressure that was put on them by the other victims and the angle of accusation, as well as the patchwork investigation, that the detectives and DA relentlessly pursued and built. So either the detectives influenced two of the victims, or the victims, understandably, wanted someone to pay for the shooting, or it could have been a combination of the two. This has to be the case because on any January-February day of my life, I COULD NOT be mistaken for being an African-American as was stated in ALL the ORIGINAL victims and witnesses statements, not the night of the shooting, not the day Alton wrote his statement, and not the day of my trial when the explanation was that one of the Black shooters suddenly had a lighter skin complexion. Although Alton had recanted his statement and apologized to me personally in a letter for his statement that was used against George Houston and I, by the time I went to trial all five victims had photographic memories and testified that I was one of the shooters. In addition, the White couple who had witnessed 3 Black males flee the scene in their original statements, and who, according to my attorney, were slated to testify on my behalf, suddenly switched sides and their statements after a meeting with the DA, testifying on the stand instead for the prosecution with a vague, neutral testimony that the streetlights were too dim and it was too dark, so they were unsure of the exact races and skin complexions of the suspects. But I ask, why did they change or add to their statement ten months after the fact? Who tampered with the White couple? Why did EVERYONE’S trial testimonies conflict drastically from their original statements in which they stated 3 Black males were the suspects? Were the victims and witnesses’ memories of the shootings more improved and clearer ten months after the shooting than they were on the night of the shooting? In ALL of the original statements given on the night of the shooting EVERYONE said 3 Black males committed the shootings, so why did the detectives go against the statements of the victims and witnesses by pursuing a “Hispanic” (me) based on the statement of a 14-year-old suspect?
When it comes to the topic of erroneous eye-witness identification, which was the basis of my wrongful conviction, I would like to share this long quote from the book Louisiana V. Vincent Simmons, Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish as written by Katja Pumm:
Erroneous eye-witness identification is the main factor leading to wrongful convictions. In many cases, witnesses are the only evidence a prosecutor produces at trial. If no crime indicators like drugs or weapons were seized, or if no physical proof corroborates sexual assault [in my case Attempted Capital Murder], witnesses against the defendant are sufficient to make a case…erroneous eye-witness testimony is an element in around seventy-five percent of all proven wrongful convictions. Eye-witness testimony, alone, is not a reliable basis to convict a defendant.
Human memory is fallible because it can be influenced and altered. The presence of a weapon increases stress and decreases the likelihood of a reliable identification. People are less able to recognize faces of a different race. When our memory is manipulated by information from others our initial memory cannot be restored. The report [by the Innocence Project, 2009] states witnesses may fear that failing to identify the suspect will mean the end of the investigation (pg. 77, 227).
Based on the detective’s deception and illegal investigative tactics, Alton’s false statement, and the erroneous eye-witness identification, I had been indicted, arrested, punched in the face by the detectives, booked, charged, confined in the Harris County Jail in segregation, tried convicted, and sentenced to 40 years-after I refused a 20 year plea deal-in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for something, a crime, I did not commit. Essentially, I was dragged through each phase of the criminal justice system and I had experienced the entire criminal guilt process as if I was guilty, creating, if nothing else, a psychological element of guilt in my mind because of my link to the case by the original conflict that occurred at the party, my intimate knowledge of the case and by me absorbing the full punishment of the case. By the time I reached my first real I.D. prison unit, formerly known as the “Terrible” Terrell Unit (now called the Polunski Unit) and one of the nation’s worst prisons when I had arrived in October of 1996, I had lost all faith in the judicial system and any hope I had in receiving true justice. After all, I was convicted of a crime I did not commit, where 3 African-American males were the original suspects and there was not one shred of physical evidence that tied me to the crime. My focus shifted from my irrelevant innocence to something far more relevant: surviving in the deviant culture of the prison environment, where I encountered people acting like animals in a concrete jungle. My new convict identity corresponded with a number (#747451), I was stripped of my dignity and clothed in a white prison uniform, I learned a new slang language that was more nuanced than street slang, and I quickly adjusted my behavior to the unwritten codes of conduct that govern prison life and the unique subculture that exists behind prison walls. Two days into my prison experience a guy was killed, a gang hit, he was stabbed and tossed over the third tier. I knew then I would have to become an animal to survive among animals. I became one with the system I despised. I became institutionalized. But most importantly, at 19-years-old, I quickly because a man in prison. To add insult to injustice, when my court appointed appeal attorney, Diane Olvera, filed my appeal, she argued that I should have received a lesser charge (Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon)-because, according to the trial testimony, the shooter I was convicted of being only shot one person in the leg-instead of arguing that I was innocent. When I told my appeal attorney I was innocent, she advised me to appeal for a lesser charge because she said the chances of me proving my innocence without physical evidence were extremely small. At that point, and with all that had happened to me, I felt so betrayed by the “system” that I did not care what angle my attorney decided to pursue in my appeal. As expected, I lost my appeal, and to this day, I haven’t filed any appeals beyond my initial appeal. Thinking about my innocence only made the time they unjustly gave me harder, so I shut off my innocence from entering my daily thought process and did their time with a clear mind, knowing that my survival started and ended with my mental strength. Throughout the course of my incarceration, I have done unjust time instead of letting their time do me. By doing my time, I did not so much forget about my innocence, but on the outside, it would have appeared I was treating myself as if I were guilty because of how I adapted to prison life so seamlessly, functioning like an emotionless, institutionalized robot, maintaining my youthful appearance and inner strength, refusing to allow the “system” to destroy what little control I had left over my life, such as my mental and spiritual freedom. However, I did not want to just do the time they unjustly gave me; I wanted to make sense of my unusually difficult situation. I felt the only way I could make sense or a purpose out of my wrongful conviction was to gain something enormously positive from my prison experience. Earning an education is the most positive, visible achievement an inmate can gain in prison. It was once articulated best by a former inmate, Malcom X, “there are two places a man can become anything he wants in life: a university or a prison.” I made the right choice by embarking on an education it became my escape and a positive distraction from thinking about my innocence. In order, I earned my GED (1996), a Data Processing computer trade from Lee College (1999), an Associates of Science degree in Business Administration from Lee College (2002, Summa Cum Laude), and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Behavioral Science from the University of Houston at Clear Lake (2011, Cum Laude). No matter how much I distracted myself with earning my education and with other positive activities, and no matter how much good I gained from my bad experience, the voice of my innocence disturbed my conscience daily. Throughout most of my incarceration, I did not fight my wrongful conviction because I had no new evidence to fight with. I didn’t even know how to acquire new evidence from my distant prison cell. Didn’t even know how to fight with any new evidence if and when I acquired some. There were, however self-preservation by an inspiring book or TV news I tried to do something proactive by contacting the University of Houston Innocence Project, but my attempts to get someone to look into my case were met with failure. In February 2012, after having done 17 flat years in prison, I received a piece of new evidence from my pro bono parole attorney, Mrs. Tammy Henderson Peden, in the form of an affidavit written by Alton Jackson, who’s false, coerced statement in 1995 as a 14-year-old implicated me into this case. With Alton’s present-day affidavit, he was trying to right his wrong, and I had nothing but gratitude towards Alton. His affidavit, a piece of long-awaited new evidence, was more than enough to light a fire inside of me to start aggressively fighting my wrongful conviction, and I haven’t stopped fighting since. Though I am severely limited on what I can do from my cell, every day I wake up and say to myself, ‘what can I do today’ and ‘who can I write today’ to bring me closer to my exoneration? Although the failure of the system and the failure I have encountered in trying to prove my innocence has left me discouraged and with little hope that I’ll ever receive true justice, I know with the right team of experts and investigators working on my case, digging through the detailed facts and doing the necessary footwork to question witnesses, the truth will inevitably come out. I am terribly sorry for what happened to the victims in my case; in fact, I feel a measure of responsibility because I was involved in the original verbal conflict at the party by way of standing on the side with my gang friends who I rode with to the party, but I cannot continue doing time for a shooting I did not commit without fighting for my innocence. I have to fight the miscarriage of justice that has suffocated my life existence for the past 19 years, but I cannot fight alone, so I’m writing this plea for help, this story summary of my case, with a heavy heart yet with optimistic expectations, hoping this sincere, serious message reaches the right set of hands and eyes of a person exonerated and receive true justice. At this late stage in my incarceration, proving my actual innocence is not just about regaining my freedom anymore, it’s about my legacy, justice, and clearing my name. For even if I’m granted parole at my first parole hearing, I will continue to fight to reverse my wrongful conviction on the outside; I will fight until I breathe my last breath. However, parole is never a guarantee, and since my projected release date (long way discharge) is 03/03/2035, I have to approach time from the standpoint of my entire sentence because I am still incarcerated. Whether you’re reading this as an Innocence organization, a class of law students, or an individual, I’m asking you to please give me a chance and at least look into my case. I challenge anyone to retrieve and investigate the police reports, statements, and trial transcripts in my case to corroborate the claims and points I have made in this writing, and I assure you, when you’re done, you will know I am a victim of illegal detective work and at a huge disadvantage with a court appointed attorney representing me in his first “capital” case. (Contact me for a CD copy of my trial transcripts and police reports.) It should be noted that my co-defendant, George Houston, has declared his innocence since day one as well. George encountered one of the actual shooters in this case on one of the prison units he was (and is) currently assigned to. The shooter and purported “ringleader”, Joshua Lawrence Willis #80429, even wrote an affidavit on behalf of George, since George was misidentified by the victims for the role in the crime Joshua Willis committed. George and I share the same parole attorney, Mrs. Tammy E. Henderson Peden. She is representing my parole affairs pro bono and she believes in our actual innocence, to the point that she has exceeded her duties in trying to help us. She is responsible for contacting Alton Jackson and acquiring an affidavit from him. As our parole attorney, and not a criminal attorney, there is only so much she can do, however, you are encouraged to contact her if you have any inquiries on our case or if you have any information. Contact her at 713-476-0988 (office), 713-244-2707 (fax), email@example.com (email). I also ask that you contact me as well for more information about my case and if you have any questions. Even if you cannot help me directly, I ask that you please reproduce this story-my story-and pass it on, via hardcopies or by email, to anyone who you feel can help me. I hope this message reaches the right person, who will be as pivotal in my release as Alton Jackson’s false statement was in my incarceration. Thank you for listening to me, for reading my story. Freedom! Here I stand, I can do no other.