September 23, 2019, published on International Wrongful Conviction Day 2019
A letter from Michael to you all:
I am writing this letter because I am in need of support. This is the first time that I have had to write and ask for some kind of support or assistance, so it is not an easy thing for me to do.
I believe that because I am asking for support, I have a responsibility to explain why.
I am incarcerated for a crime that I had nothing to do with. And I am serving a sentence of life without possible parole as a result.
As some of you might be aware of, I, along with thousands of other prisoners, was housed in solitary, many of us for almost, or more, than three decades, and during that time my late Father and I were working tirelessly to try and find an attorney, including innocence projects, willing to help. To no avail.
I have continued to write and ask attorneys for any assistance that they might be willing to provide, for the past four years that I have been in the general population. This has been part of the ongoing effort that my Father and I were engaged in for the past 34 years.
I do have a website thanks to Annabelle Parker, who has been a loyal supporter and friend since meeting her while I was in solitary, as well as an innocence project website in Europe, that a Ms. Katja Pumm is responsible for. I have had this website for several years, thanks to my niece, Kia, who has also been very supportive of me in these efforts.
These websites have all of the facts of my case on them.
In April 1985, I was charged, along with two other people, of being armed with three different caliber weapons, and shooting a person 15 times. Each of us was charged with being armed with, and personally using a firearm in the commission of the crime.
There was no physical evidence. No guns, bloodstain clothing, fingerprints. It was alleged by the state that this was an execution-style murder. The shooting occurred in the late night or early morning hours, after 12:00 AM. The lighting in the area was very bad. Because I had been previously convicted of two counts of second degree murder in 1975, the state was seeking the death penalty against me.
The trial jury deliberated for almost four full days, and requested a complete re-reading of the testimony of the only two witnesses that connected me to this case.
I was tried separately from my co-defendants.
The jury found me guilt of first degree murder, but, they found that I did not personally use a weapon in the commission of the crime.
The jury did not consider me to have been the actual shooter or killer.
The trial jury could not agree on punishment during my penalty trial, and a hung jury was declared.
A second penalty trial jury was impaneld and this jury recommended that I be sentenced to life without parole.
Some of the jurors said that they only recommended this sentence because they did not have any other choice. They said that if they could have recommended a sentence less than that, they would have.
There were two witnesses who testified for the prosecution that connected me to this shooting.
A female named Linda Toliver, who claimed that on March 6th, 1985, I was at her apartment in Los Angeles, and I had a conversation with her and admitted my involvement in this shooting.
I had known this female for no more than two weeks in my life. She admitted that she did not know anything about me. She did not know where I stayed. She did not know what kind of car I drove. She did not know my phone number, nothing, but she claimed that I would tell her that I was involved in a killing of another person.
On the day that Toliver claims I was at her apartment in Los Angeles, I was in San Diego, CA, visiting friends, and I had been there for a few days. March 6th is the birthday of my youngest son. And March 5th, 1985, was his one year birthday. I could not be with him on this day because I could not make it back from San Diego in time. I did call his Mother to make her aware of this. And I spoke to my son on his birthday.
The people I was visiting in San Diego had a brother who was incarcerated at the time, and he called while I was at the home of his sister, whom I was visiting, on his birthday. His birthday was also on March 6th.
The mother of my youngest son, as well as the people that I was visiting in San Diego, and the brother whom I spoke to on the phone while in San Diego, were all willing to come to court to testify to this. I also have affidavits from them.
None of them were called to testify on my behalf.
Toliver was absolutely sure that it was on March 6th, 1985, when I was at her apartment in Los Angeles, and she explained to the court why she was sure about this.
According to Toliver, she asked me why did we have to shoot the person who was killed. Couldn’t we have beaten him up? She said that I responded to this by saying: “What they did was messed up.” The trial judge later said that he was unsure who this statement was referring to, me and my co-defendants, or my co-defendants and not me.
Thomas Vandiver testified that he witnessed the shooting.
He gave at least three different versions of what he claims to have seen. Including that he did not see anything, and someone told him about the shooting. He also claimed in one version that he ran away from the area, ran home and jumped in the bed and threw the cover over his head.
Vandiver later admitted that he had been up for 24 hours, without sleep, was tired, and that he had smoked some marijuana and was high. Vandiver claimed to have been standing at least 60 ft. from the shooting when it occurred.
I was in Compton, CA at the time of the shooting. And my alibi witness was willing to testify that I was with her for a couple of days.
Both Toliver and Vandiver were arrested for narcotics charges about two weeks after the shooting. Both of them admitted that they agreed to cooperate with the police as a result of the trouble that they were in, and they both admitted that they were afraid and would do anything to get out of the trouble that they were in.
Vandiver initialy stated that he did not know that the victim had been killed, and found out only as a result of his being told by the police when he was arrested two weeks later. Vandiver also testified that I was arrested with him on the narcotics charge, and that he was positive, just as sure about this as he was that I was one of the people that he saw commit this crime.
It was proven that I was never arrested for or in connection with that narcotics charge.
An evidentiary hearing was held [with]out the jury’s presence. This hearing was held to determine if threats that Vandiver claims to have received would be admitted. It was established that there was no evidence to connect any threats to me.
At the hearing Vandiver was asked by my attorneys if the threats affected the way that he testified? And if he had testified truthfully each time that he testified.
Vandiver answered that although he was afraid, the threats did not affect the way that he testified, he told the truth no matter what. It was also learned at the hearing that Vandiver had made his inconsistent statements to the police well before any threats occurred. And they continued after Vandiver says that the threats stopped!
When the jury was called back in and the prosecutor started to question Vandiver about the threats, the prosecutor was allowed to present the threats as though I had authorized the threats. And as though threats were the reason for why Vandiver had lied and gave inconsistent statements to the police.
Because the transcript from the evidentiary was not completed, my trial attorneys waited until the next day to call Vandiver as defense witness to impeach him on his testimony at the evidentiary hearing.
When my attorneys attempted to question Vandiver, the prosecutor objected to this stating that we could not impeach our own witness.
The trial judge then stated that my trial attorney had already thoroughly questioned Vandiver, and then he refused to allow my attorneys to impeach Vandiver on his evidentiary hearing testimony. This left the jury with the impression that Vandiver had testified the same way in their presence as he did out of their presence.
And the jury was left with the impression that Vandiver had lied and gave inconsistent statements to the police because he was afraid as a result of threats that he received. And that I was responsible for the threats.
The jury was never allowed to hear any of the testimony that Vandiver gave at the evidentiary.
None of this was ever raised on my appeal.
Another witness who testified for the prosecution, Ann Trunnell, testified that she had been with the victim throughout the evening smoking drugs. Ms. Trunnell testified that earlier in the day she was in front of her home in Compton, CA when she saw the victim in this case, in a green Cadillac. She said that she and other people who saw this were surprised to see the victim and the driver of the green Cadillac together, because they were known to have hostilities with each other. Ms. Trunnell said that when she first heard that the victim had been killed, she and others thought it was the driver of the green Cadillac.
As far as I know, nothing was ever done by the police to determine other suspects.
In 2014, while I was still housed in solitary, my former trial attorney contacted my niece to ask if the case files in my case could be picked up. My niece did go by the attorney’s office to pick up the files, and after looking through the files I was told about statements that were provided to my former investigator. I was sent a copy of these statements.
There were several statements from witnesses who told my investigator that I was not present at the location of the shooting at the time that the shooting occurred, and that I had left the location earlier in the day and had not returned.
None of these witnesses were ever called to testify on my behalf (I have affidavits from three of these witnesses that were notarized this year).
Also included in these statements is a statement from my former investigator. He went to the location of the shooting (in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects) because he wanted to get a visual look himself at what the alleged eye-witness Thomas Vandiver claims to have seen. My former investigator concluded that it would not have been possible for Vandiver to have seen what he claims from the area where he says he was standing, because there was no clear line of sight. There was an apartment building blocking the view and he would not have been able to see the area.
None of this was brought to the jury’s attention.
None of these issues were ever raised on my appeal.
I do not believe that my appellate attorney was aware of these statements. She never gave me the impression that she knew these statements existed. I did explain to her hat there were witnesses who had been willing to testify on my behalf. I just did not know of these statements.
The jury was also instructed on aiding and abetting, pursuant to CALJI 3.01. This instruction was unconstitutional because it failed to inform the jury that to convict me under aiding and abetting principles, it must also find that I had the specific intent to do so.
The jury was also instructed on Principles Defined, pursuant to CALJIC 3.00. This instruction allowed the jury to convict me as a principle under the theory of aiding and abetting. This instruction also contained the now unconstitutional “Natural and Probable Consequences” doctrine.
I recently been in contact with a journalist from the Los Angeles area named Michael Douglas Carlin. He writes for Century City News, and he has been investigating the police corruption that had made the news over the past several years. Mr. Carlin has informed me that he has information that shows that at least one of the police officers who was involved in the police corruption, and who has pled guilty to charges relating to the police corruption, may have been involved in my being railroaded.
Mr Carlin has also expressed that my (as well as my co-defendents’) case may have been one of several cases that involved trade-offs. (It has been explained to me that this is when prosecutor/law enforcement and attorneys trade-off on cases of people who are, basically, railroaded).
It is simply not possible for me to fight this alone. And, since my parents passed away, I do not have the resources to fight this. Over the years the courts have made it quite clear that I have nothing coming. It has been incredibly disappointing and frustrating, not so much that the courts have responded as they have. That is, sadly, to be expected, but that no one has been willing to help, when an injustice has so clearly occurred, is the real source of so much disappointment.
I do have copies of the statements and affidavits that I mentioned earlier. And I am now in possession of the case files that my former [attorney] had. (I was convicted in 1987. I was not made aware of these case files until 2014, when they were picked up by my niece Kia).
In closing, as I understand it, Ms. Annabelle Parker has established, through the website, a way for people to contribute to helping get the legal assistance that is so desperately needed if I am to have any chance at overcoming this injustice.
The struggle continues. I am always with you.
Love and Solidarity,
Michael Reed Dorrough, #D83611
CSP-Sol B 10-127 Level III
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville, CA 95696-4000
Donations towards Zah’s legal fund: Paypal-pool: https://paypal.me/pools/c/8hjS44sUXT