A Message from Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) from Ohio’s death row about injustice, racism, and getting on with life

5 September 2015

Hello everybody:

Well, I finally received and read the court’s decision. What can I say? It’s so blatantly bogus that it’s almost impossible to form words to describe how I feel. It’s tragic. I mean, I’ve read the State’s theory quite a few times over the years, and I’ve refuted it every step of the way. But to now have it stand as the final word on the matter is a real slap in the face (to say the least). This system is such a joke, and these people, with their fancy titles and fancy robes, are nothing but a bunch of racist idiots with power—a power that they don’t deserve. And I’m expected to continue this charade by filing this or that motion, writing to this or that person, as if appealing to these people’s supposed conscience really means something beyond reducing me to a sniveling fool. I’m done with that. I’m done pleading and begging for my body, as if “my life” is something that they can truly take. My life is the sum total of all the thoughts and feelings that reside inside my mind, and they can never touch that.

We’ve given these people (?) way too much power over us, entrusted them with too much that is too precious, only to have them use, abuse and confuse us over and over again.

Why? Why do we continue to believe in this dream, this lie that we live in a post-racial society that recognizes only human beings? When will we ever wake up and see that all they have ever done is hide what’s real by revealing what’s false? I mean, contradiction after contradiction, and we swallow it all. Why? And this is how we’re expected to live our whole lives: watching little boys get gunned down at the playground for playing with toy guns—and no one is held accountable. How is that justice? A man standing on the sidewalk selling cigarettes (in the richest country in the world, no less) is murdered in broad daylight, on video, for everyone to see—and still no one is held accountable. And I’m supposed to be shocked and surprised that I lost my appeal?

Let’s get real. They’ve been killing niggers for centuries around here—hanging ‘em, burying ‘em, tar and feathering ‘em. . .  And ain’t I just a nigger, a THING? No? Well, tell that to the Supreme Court who, in 1875, declared that Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom because HE WAS NOT A PERSON, BUT PROPERTY. Better yet, tell it to Eric Garner’s family who, instead of receiving justice for their loss, were given a bag full of money to bury their grief, as if he was some kind of farm animal.

Make no mistake: when it comes to the so-called “justice system” in this country, we’re still stuck in the 1800s; the only thing that has changed is the vantage point from which we view what we choose to see. So look closely, adjust your scope, and you’ll see the tree and the rope. They’re still hanging niggers in America!

Over 100 of you showed up at my oral arguments last December and saw with your own eyes how ridiculous this whole thing is; the State couldn’t defend what they did. Many of you left with an optimistic feeling, believing that there was no way such a mockery could be rewarded with a victory. I feel your pain. It’s the same pain I felt after the blindfold was ripped from my eyes twenty years ago when a man, testifying at my trial, got on the stand and claimed to have had microscopic microchips embedded in his brain. There’s no way a jury is going to find me guilty of this, I told myself. But find me guilty they did—and then they sentenced me to death! Believe me, I know what it means to be disillusioned. Indeed, for the past twenty years, I’ve watched the so-called “wheel of justice” roll over my rights while my alleged attorneys have done nothing but sit back and collect a fee to auction off my life. Trust me, this whole process has been nothing but a sham.

Case in point: Three weeks after oral arguments were heard in my case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on another case in which the principal issue, once again, revolved around the withholding of exculpatory (favorable) evidence. In this case, a Mr. Darryl Gumm admitted to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy. However, since the State neglected to divulge to Mr. Gumm’s attorneys that other suspects—two of whom reportedly confessed to the murder—were initially pursued, Mr. Gumm was granted relief. He was also granted relief on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, after the prosecutor improperly elicited testimony from Mr. Gumm’s ex-roommate who testified that he (Mr. Gumm) “fucked a horse” that belonged to the roommate’s family.

Now, I think we can all agree that there’s nothing more deplorable than the rape and murder of a 10-year-old child (to say nothing of the horse!)—and yet, in reviewing his claims, the Sixth Circuit, notwithstanding Mr. Gumm’s confession, was correct in granting him relief since the State violated his Constitutional rights by not turning over evidence that contradicted their theory of events. This is the exact same thing the prosecution did in my case (and worse), and I, likewise, should have received relief. In fact, not only did Mr. Gumm and I have the same issue, but we had the same attorney, the same federal judge, and appealed to the same court (I wish I was making this stuff up).

On his initial appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, Mr. Gumm’s convictions were upheld (as were mine), after which an appeal was filed in federal court. Here, Mr. Gumm was appointed an attorney named Kate McGarry (as was I), who diligently pursued his claims, even after his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Chief Magistrate Michael Mertz  (same judge as I) presided over the case and recommended that Mr. Gumm receive relief. The State appealed to the Sixth Circuit, who ultimately upheld the District Court’s decision to grant relief to Mr. Gumm.

I present this case and its particulars, not to judge or castigate Mr. Gumm (obviously, he’s a very sick man), but to illustrate the arbitrary and capricious (and racist!) way in which “justice” is meted out in this country, and why the death penalty cannot be administered fairly.

Unlike Mr. Gumm, I never confessed to any crime; indeed, when the State offered me a deal, I rejected it outright and demanded a trial. I said it then, and I say it now: I didn’t kill anybody during the riot. But instead of turning over evidence that would help prove my innocence, the State played a game of mix and match, mixing random witness names with random excerpts of statements, and then told me to figure it out on my own. They never attempted to treat me fairly.

In 2007, when I was called back for an evidentiary hearing, I was allowed, through my attorneys, to put Lead Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier on the stand. He was the one who had fashioned the guidelines by which exculpatory evidence was turned over. Therefore, getting him on the stand was pivotal in proving that I was deprived of my right to due process. Under examination, he admitted that he had devised a Brady scheme that was decidedly narrow; to wit, in order for a statement to be viewed as favorable to my defense the witness had to “specifically exclude” me as a suspect.

In other words, if a witness came forward and claimed to have seen one of the murders, his statement was not viewed as exculpatory unless he specifically stated, “By the way, Keith LaMar wasn’t there.” This is crazy. Why would anybody, testifying to what they saw, think it necessary to specifically exclude me if they didn’t see me? And if they didn’t see me, how could they automatically assume I was a suspect? It didn’t make sense—unless, of course, the whole purpose behind narrowing the qualifications was to stifle and hinder the defense.

Because of what Piepmeier revealed on the stand at my evidentiary hearing, attorneys representing other prisoners who were sentenced to death after the riot (S.A. Hasan and George Skatzes) were able to convince the court to put their clients’ cases on hold while they combed the prosecutor’s files to determine for themselves what exactly was wrongfully withheld—and whether or not it was exculpatory.

It was the only fair and reasonable solution to circumvent the preposterous provisions that were established by the State (note: this all happened in 2011, over four years ago, and their cases are still on hold!). But when I asked my attorney, Kate McGarry, to file the necessary motions that would put my case on hold and allow me to go back and review the files, she refused (after initially giving me her word that she would). Why?

To put it plainly: racism. Kate McGarry is a racist. That’s the real reason why she didn’t diligently pursue my claims, and why I lost my appeal. I mean, how else to explain it? A white man admits to the kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder of a ten-year-old boy, and she goes above and beyond to protect his rights. Meanwhile, I’m swinging in the wind, strung up in a tree of lies.

About being a racist, I’m sure Kate would vehemently deny such an accusation. But racists very seldom acknowledge that they are racist. Once, while engaged in casual conversation, Kate broached the subject of Trayvon Martin’s death, wanting to know what I thought about it. I told her point-blank that it was racist bullshit.

“How can you justify killing a teenage boy who’s walking home drinking pop, eating Skittles?” I asked. She went on to explain George Zimmerman’s side, as if there was a plausible excuse for why he did what he did. That was the first time I saw it.

On another occasion, I asked Kate about a Senate bill that was being proposed in Arizona, having to do with improperly stopping suspected illegal immigrants. I wanted to know if she was in favor of something that would effectively violate the rights of large groups of Mexicans. She said something to the effect that, “those people enjoy our freedoms, but they don’t want to pay taxes. . .” She went on to tell me about a time when she was having one of her houses built and suspected that there were a few “undocumented workers” on the site.

“Did you go out and stop production? “ I asked.

“Oh, no, I didn’t do that,” she replied, without the slightest sense of hypocrisy in being willing to benefit from their cheap labor while at the same time denying them the right to live as human beings.

Imagine what it felt like coming to the realization that I was being represented by a racist. And before I’m accused of singling Kate out, let me be clear: this whole process was steeped in racism, from the strategic selection of the all-white jury to the hand-picked racist judge that presided over my trial. And that’s the true truth.

So, here I am, standing on the other side of a very long and treacherous journey. What now? In thinking about what to do with what remains of my time, I think it’s important to turn my attention to the movement to abolish the death penalty. Indeed, if we are ever going to move beyond the 1800s, we have to end this barbaric practice of State-sanctioned murder.

There will be a 7-day Walk to Stop Executions (October 4-10) from the Death House in Lucasville to the State House in Columbus to show opposition to capital punishment, and I want to encourage all of you who are able to come out and show your support. We have to stop this thing, and only we—standing together!—can do it. So please show your support. You can find more information at: http://walkagainstthedeathpenalty.footprintsforpeace.net.

In addition to that, I intend to increase my efforts to reach out to at-risk youth. I’ve had several opportunities to phone in to juvenile detention centers and talk with groups of young men who’re at the beginning of this road, and it’s been a very meaningful exchange. I want to double my efforts there and get them some books that’ll teach them about what it means to be alive. A very good book called “Between the World and Me” (Ta-Nehisi Coates) just came out, and I want to get as many copies as possible into juvenile detention centers.  It’s a powerful piece, written to the author’s 15-year-old son about the perils of inhabiting a black body in a racist country.

To raise money to purchase the books, I’m putting up for auction one of the paintings I recently finished, a piece I’m calling “Chillin’ on Green Court,” a reference to the projects where I spent most of my formative years.  It took me 117 hours to complete, and I’m hoping you all will support me in my desire to get some books in to these young people. They need our help. The auction can be found online at Ebay through September 25th at: http://csr.ebay.com/sell/success.jsf?itemid=121760895747&mode=AddItem&draftId=483016342002

I also intend to resume writing my own manuscript. While awaiting the decision, I found it hard to concentrate on writing, which is why I took up painting. Now that the federal court has said what it has to say, I need to get back to my life. I refuse to allow these people, and this situation, to distract me from my purpose. They put me in this madness to make an example out of me, to show other rebellious souls what they’ll do to them if they resist. They tried to break me, to strip me of my strength and rob me of my smile, all so that they could parade me around as a warning to others. But, look! I’m still standing! I’m still smiling! I’m still fighting!

It ain’t over,

Signature of Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) Keith LaMar (Bomani Shakur) summer 2015 KeithLamar's mile 2015 KeithLamar with friends 2015   Bomani Shakur

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