I spent yesterday at an evidentiary hearing for Coley McCraney, who is accused of murdering Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley. The hearing was scheduled as the district attorney has refused to disclose any discovery information despite multiple requests by the defense team. Such requests are governed by Rule 16 of criminal procedure and Rule 34 of the state rules of civil procedure. Additionally, a 1963 Supreme court ruling in Brady v. Maryland requires a prosecutor to turn over evidence favorable or exculpatory to a defendant, or it is a violation of due process. It is hard to understand seven months since McCraney’s arrest, five months since the indictment, 60 plus days after a motion for discovery why the district attorney has refused to turn over discovery evidence. The time limit for disclosure in Alabama is 14 days from when the judge granted the motion, which was 60 days ago. If there is a headline, that’s it, not what’s on the front page of the local newspaper. But if that’s not weird enough for you, read what was in their story.
I want to think this is just sloppy reporting, but the reporter, Michelle Forehand, misleads the public by presenting false information. I'm observing this trial for a documentary photography project, not trying to report on the reporting. However, the question of how media influences jury pools in unethical ways are worth documenting ask yourself, what would be the purpose of this? Of course, this being Alabama, malfeasance abounds.
Below are the police department's records showing the date and time the girls were reported missing and when they were found. They were last seen around 11:40 PM, and their car noticed on Herring street at 4 AM four hours later. There were not missing for two days as the Dothan Eagle reports.
This reinforces why many in the community, especially those of color, believe the Dothan Eagle cannot be trusted to present information to the public regarding this trial. It's unfortunate as approximately 14 thousand people read the paper copy, and 20-25 thousand read their web site daily. Their second largest market is the Dale county - Ozark area. But misleading the public by false reporting is not only irresponsible; it can taint a jury pool. I hope this is just an innocent mistake, or two I guess since it would be the reporter and editor.
The hearing was continued, and the judge set things in motion amicably, and the district attorney is going to be forced to comply. But to be clear regarding the reporting, the obvious red flag is that there has been no discovery turned over, so no McCraney is not "ready for trial," that's comical at best. I think it's worth correcting the impression given by the reporter the girls were killed by a single 9mm handgun when the crime scene evidence revealed two separate pistols, determined by shell casings recovered by the State Dept. of Forensics, and one weapon fired the two slugs recovered. and one weapon fired the two slugs recovered. Maybe that's an innocent, but it's important the public not be misled as it indicates more than likely two individuals are responsible or one man with two guns, which is unlikely.
It's a strange feeling sitting in a courtroom where not many blocks away are where these high school seniors were left dead in the trunk of their car. The question now is, how did a quiet preacher with no criminal record and an exemplary life murder these girls when he was younger and never again show any sign of being violent? The allegation of the Ozark Police department and District Attorney is he did just that and is their killer. Pastor McCraney claims he is innocent, and many in the community, even a majority of whites, believe him. To be clear, I'm documenting this as a photographer, not a journalist - an exhibit and photo book put on hold. I have never shared my opinion as to who murdered these girls. My photographs and drawings hopefully give context to those not familiar with Ozark or the murders. I also realize I have a responsibility. Given the history of local media long being advocates for prosecutors and police departments, its important a factual, objective account of this trial be available to the public. No newspaper or TV station in Dothan should be allowed to taint a jury pool.
Having spent years researching this case, interviewing many of the people involved in law enforcement at the time, I am aware of how aggressive members of the Ozark police department can be to silence those who speak out. This case is important for many reasons, and I want no one to be pressured the way I was and have their family threatened. The public has a right to know what happened to these young girls and why this case remained unsolved. Their family has a right to justice, and Mr. McCraney has a right to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. And importantly, Kirke Adams (the district attorney) has a legal and moral obligation to seek the truth, even if contrary to his currently held belief, providing evidence comes forward that Mr. McCraney is innocent. There have been countless conspiracy theories over the years, but no one, including wannabe filmmakers shamefully pointing fingers at the victim's family members and wackos filing motions in this case, has offered a credible theory that matches the evidence.