Trial Transcripts - The Fundamental Tool For Review of Convictions - Altered. Destroyed Permanently?
For 20+ years, I have been working to prove my innocence. I have been severely handicapped because I have been denied the most fundamental tools with which to work. That is the record of what occurred at trial; in this case, there is a record of three trials, but I can't get it at all.
2 January 2023 | Craig Saunders | Philadelphia, Pensylnvania.
My first trial started on February 11, 2003. I was represented by D. Louis Nicholson. The prosecutor was James Berardinelli and the Judge was Gwendolyn Bright. Sharon German was the Official Court Reporter. On March 3, 2003, a mistrial was declared as a result of a hung jury. The foreman said the jury could not agree that I was ever present at the scene of the crime. I was scheduled to start a second trial on May 19, 2003, and my attorney requested the trial transcripts. When that day came, the transcripts were not ready yet and a continuance was granted. The trial date was set for September 15, 2003. On the 16th, the trial was continued again until January 12, 2004.
Upon entering the courtroom on the 13th, Nicholson told me the case would be continued, because he still did not have the trial transcripts. When Judge Bright entered the courtroom, she told my attorney that she had a copy of the transcripts and so did the prosecutor. Nicholson was told he should have known and had a copy. The request for a continuance was denied. The trial started without my attorney having the benefit of using the transcripts of the first trial to prepare for the second trial or to cross-examine witnesses about the inconsistencies in their testimony. Being that 11 months had passed between trials, he could not be expected to remember the witnesses' testimony in the first trial.
On January 27, 2004, the jury found me guilty of burglary, kidnapping, robbery, criminal conspiracy, rape as an accomplice, and firearms violations. On March 11, 2004, I was sentenced to 48½ to 97 years in prison. I started a direct appeal and requested the trial transcripts of both trials. Meanwhile, my codefendant Harlan Smith started the trial in May 2004 and was acquitted of all charges. His trial was before the same judge, with the same prosecutor, the same investigating detectives, and the same eyewitnesses. Smith was represented by Samuel Stretton and also had an alibi. Attorney Daniel H. Greene was appointed to represent me on direct appeal. When I spoke to him about the issues to be raised, he said that my alibi was weak and the record did not show my trial attorney's request for the transcripts of my first trial. This gave me the impression that he was not working in my interests and, therefore, I did not trust him. I requested he be removed from the case and was granted permission to represent myself.
Once I got my transcripts, in February 2005, I saw why he said what he said. He did not have the January 13, 2004 transcripts at all. And, the testimony of my alibi witness had been substantially altered by the Official Court Reporter of my 2nd trial, Barry Harris. While representing myself, I requested all of the trial transcripts several times. The Pennsylvania Superior Court granted my request, but Judge Bright did not comply and even told the Superior Court I had all the transcripts. By the time briefs were submitted, I had an incomplete copy of the transcripts of my 2nd trial, none of the transcripts of my 1st trial, and no transcripts of Smith's trial. Relief was denied.
On February 26, 2007, I began Post Conviction Relief proceedings, filing what is called a PCRA Petition, in the same court I was tried in. Although, Judge Bright did not preside over these proceedings. I continued to represent myself during these proceedings. Once again, I requested all of the transcripts of all 3 trials. After almost 2 years of litigating (& I believe some ex parte communication), the prosecutor, A.D.A. Michael Gehring indicated that he would look into my allegations about the inaccuracies in the transcripts of my 2nd trial. Between February and September of 2009, I received a revised version of my alibi witness testimony which was now 42 pages long as opposed to the 14 pages originally provided. Any objective observer would be able to conclude the alterations were intentional. I also received January 13th & 14th, 2004 transcripts of jury selection for the first time; not included in these transcripts were pretrial motions and discussions, including my trial attorney's request for the transcripts of my 1st trial. A.D.A. Gehring said he believed Barry Harris's claim that the alterations were an oversight.
The court never gave me a hearing to prove that the alterations were not only intentional but malicious. During this same time period, the PCRA Court, with Judge Lillian Ransom presiding, was telling me that an order had been signed granting my request for Smith's trial transcripts. The order was signed by the Judge, but it had no timestamp and was never filed with the clerk. I wrote the Official Court Reporter in that trial, Dianna Raquet, and requested the transcripts. I got no response... Eventually, on April 23, 2010, Judge Ransom dismissed my PCRA Petition and I appealed that decision. Using the same procedure used on direct appeal, I again made a request for all trial transcripts.
Now, on June 16, 2010, for the first time since my 2003 trial, Sharon German sent me part of the transcript of my 1st trial. In her cover letter, she said would retrieve the remaining transcripts from an archive. She never did. Also, by this time, my ability to use those transcripts in support of claims was incredibly limited. -- To this day, January 2023, I still do not have a complete copy of the transcripts of either one of my trials and I have not been given any of the transcripts of my codefendant's trial.
So, instead of fighting for justice and freedom, much of my time and energy has been focused on fighting for the basic tools needed to fight for justice and freedom. The Pennsylvania Superior Court has noted that: "The fundamental tool for appellate review is the official record of the events that occurred in the trial court." Justice Baer of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that: "Litigants and appellate courts alike have but one vehicle through which to examine a trial court's proceedings for irregularities: the certified record. Therefore to alter a record is to strike at the very pillars of meaningful appellate review, and concomitantly therewith, the basic tenets of due process."
To this day, not one appellate court has reviewed a complete and accurate record of what occurred in the trial court.