Please write to Michael, he needs our support:
Michael Reed Dorrough, D83611
CSP-Sacramento STRH – G 178L
P.O. Box 290066,
Represa, CA 95671
Please write to Michael, he needs our support:
Michael Reed Dorrough, D83611
CSP-Sacramento STRH – G 178L
P.O. Box 290066,
Represa, CA 95671
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
We were made aware of this bad news, and want to ask you, family, friends, supporters to send him a letter or a flikshop-card to let him know he is in our thoughts.
We hope to find out more about Zaharibu’s situation. We were told that he has his medication with him.
Michael spent 26 years in solitary confinement inside California’s SHU’s. He was placed in general population in 2015, following the 2011-2013 hungerstrikes.
We are also looking for a lawyer to help challenge Michael’s wrongful conviction. He has been inside since 1985, on false charges.
Michael’s current address is:
Michael Reed Dorrough, D83611
CSP-Sol B 10-127 Level iii
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville, CA 95696-4000
Thank you for caring!
Today the interview that Bryan Mazza conducted with Michael Dorrough was aired on KALW’s Uncuffed (91.7FM in the Bay Area, or online at kalw.org. He speaks about his time in the newly built SHU in Pelican Bay prison, where he started the 26 years he was locked in solitary confinement.
You can listen to it here: https://www.kalw.org/post/twenty-six-years-isolation-story-michael-dorrough
We received the joyful news that as of November 2015 Zah is out of solitary confinement! He is still being held at a Level iii which means he is not allowed out of his cell after 3 PM. But overall he sounded much better in his letter.
Although he writes it is cold up there (no heating in the cells), the food is usually hot, and not bad, and he has spent time out in the yard, which has helped his health too. He can also see the mountains when he leaves his cell. Also, he has been able to call regulary, something which still is very special, because for most of the 26 years Zah spent in solitary, he was not allowed to call.
The prison is about 6 hours from his family in Compton, which is too far for his elderly mother to travel, so we hope that he can one day be moved closer to her, but best would be if his case was overturned…
You can write Zah at this address:
It is very obvious here that they have no intention of releasing certain people to general population – they are issuing rules violation reports and finding [certain] people guilty for things that make it obvious that it’s politics. I mentioned in a previous letter that we were issued “rules violations reports.”
I believe that the closer certain people get to being considered for release, these “Rules Violations Reports” will be used to justify retaining those people in SHU.
I am no closer to a general population than i was 26 years ago. And the same thing can be said for a number of prisoners. And because so many of us are being issued “Rules Violations Reports” that have absolutely nothing at all to do with gang activity (except in the warped thinking of the i.g.i. [institutional gang investigators] no one is interested in engaging in any of what the Cdcr proposes – and no one should expect us to subordinate ourselves to things like this.
The Cdcr should be willing to admit that certain people will not be released for whatever reason – and then commit themselves to developing programs for those prisoners.
The state would love to have us – still – fighting this battle years from now – while they continue to subject us to torture – and deprive us the opportunities to re-connect with our families and loved ones, and really, nothing has changed. There are no programs at all in place – and, the policies as to the privileges that were available in SDP [Step Down Program] have been reduced.
People here want to program, they look for light at the end of the tunnel, but only see darkness.
Written Dec. 28, 2014, received Jan. 13th, 2015.
On November 20th, Michael Zaharibu Dorrough was moved back from the prison hospital to cell nr 22 in 4B-1L. You can now reach him here:
Michael Dorrough, D83611
P.O. Box 3481,
Corcoran, CA 93212
Please write Zaharibu and let him know you are in support of him!
Since July 8th, 30,000 prisoners have started a hunger strike in California protesting the solitary confinement policies which can lead to people being kept in the SHU (Secure Housing Unit) for years, decades even.
Michael Zaharibu Dorrough has been in the SHU for 24+ years.
Since the hunger strike began, the prison authorities of CSP-Corcoran have moved Zaharibu and his cellmate who are both on hunger strike to another unit: 4A 3R. This is a unit used for “debriefers”, which means prisoners who have informed the prison officials and gang investigators (IGI) on other prisoners concerning gang membership.
Here is a letter from Zaharibu, which he wrote to a friend outside on July 14th:
Zaharibu Dorrough: we are being isolated in Corcoran-SHU! No medical checkups! Stripped of property!
From a letter by Zaharibu Dorrough to a friend:
|Michael Reed Dorrough with his family before he was incarcerated|
Solitary confinement is akin to torture as it includes inhumane levels of sensory deprivation, extremely limited interaction with the outside world, and poor food and access to healthcare. The torture of isolation not only stems from the conditions of sensory deprivation – no human touch, no fresh air, no natural light, no windows, no sound, often no communication, no exercise, no activities, no warmth in winter – but from the strategically prolonged lengths of stay.
The combination of total isolation for extended periods of time, coerced snitching, the hostilities between racial groups inside, mental abuse and physical violence by guards can thoroughly crush prisoners. There is nothing left to do but unite and act.
Prisoners have been fighting back against inhumane treatment and abuse in the prison system since the conception of it. Two recent racial unity movements started by prisoners inside long-term solitary confinement units in California have been the hunger strike started in the Pelican Bay SHU and the agreement to end hostilities. In writing back and forth with Zaharibu, I focused my questions on these struggles and more generally on multiracial movements outside and inside prison walls.
In the second letter I received from him, I fixated on a particular statement. He said: “The housing of citizens in isolation for any length – 10 days or 30 years – and depriving them of any and all meaningful programs for absolutely no legitimate reason should provoke a sense of outrage. That it is being done … to break human beings should provoke outrage amongst all of those who love democracy.” I realized at that moment that I have limited knowledge about solitary confinement. I sought to find out everything I could about the history, application, conditions and resistance to these atrocious control units. What I read, listened to and saw is torture under the guise of rehabilitation and safety. It is helpful to re-read Zaharibu’s letters with this research fresh in my mind. I am even more filled with outrage!
Although halting racial driven violence and uniting across race is an immense achievement and central to prisoner resistance, there is more to it than singing “We Are the World” by Michael Jackson and calling it a day. By no means am I saying that this is what incarcerated men, women and transgendered folks are doing inside, but that those of us on the outside need to do our homework and learn this history that shapes the current situation.
Zaharibu wrote in response to my questions: “A lot of us have always believed that ending the [state-created] violence and hostilities is crucial to having any kind of chance of changing the realities that we are confronted with daily. And it’s important to put this in a correct historical context. This specific effort by the state has been ongoing for the past 30 years or more.”
“The housing of citizens in isolation for any length – 10 days or 30 years – and depriving them of any and all meaningful programs for absolutely no legitimate reason should provoke a sense of outrage. That it is being done … to break human beings should provoke outrage amongst all of those who love democracy.” As I mentioned before, Zaharibu has been in solitary lockdown for 25 full years. What I did not mention is that he is incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Like so many other African American men and women locked inside prison walls, he has a completely sound case of innocence that the courts refuse to hear.
He is guilty until proven innocent and, although his attorneys have done so, the color of his skin and his radical political views overshadow his innocence. He is currently struggling, with the help of his family, to get a new trial for his case.
“It not only connects me to life outside of prison but when I am blessed enough to meet someone like you, it connects me to the larger activist community. I consider the prisoner rights movement to be inclusive of the broader abolition movement … It is simply not possible for meaningful lasting change to occur without coalition building … I consider my being able to connect with you and the class there to be part of that coalition building.”
That statement is one of the first things Zaharibu wrote to me in November. The warmth and care that rests in these words is not uncommon in his writing. With each letter I feel more and more seen, cared for and connected to something larger than our correspondence. I am connected to the movement of a people unified to gain humanity back.
“This struggle had to happen. It was inevitable. There is simply no way that people are going to continue to allow themselves to be subjected to the constant assault on their humanity. The disrespectful, degrading, dehumanizing get down that is directed at us at some point has to be responded to. It honestly does not matter what one’s political ideology might be.” – Zaharibu Dorrough
“The time for us to get off our knees is long overdue” – Zaharibu Dorrough
What does it look like for those of us on the other side of these walls to “get off our knees” and support prisoners fighting for dignity, humanity and freedom? Some call it accompaniment or solidarity and, while I respect their praxis and can see where they are coming from, I do not agree with the notion that I am supporting someone else in their struggle. There lies a harmful distancing within that framework that is important to unpack.
With each letter I feel more and more seen, cared for and connected to something larger than our correspondence. I am connected to the movement of a people unified to gain humanity back. I view my participation as stepping up to a struggle that is all of ours to fight. Although we all have differing placements, privileges and entry points into it, that doesn’t mean we aren’t all affected by it. Some examples of how I see my role in the abolition and prisoner rights movements are being in dialogue with prisoners about needs and ideas, working with organizations such as the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and funneling resources that I have access to through the academy into these movements.
I certainly am outraged and will continue to be. I am blessed to continue learning from and sharing outrage with Zaharibu. Like a great man once said, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”
To read more about Zaharibu’s case, go to: http://nctt-shu.blogspot.com/p/zaharibu-dorroughs-case-for-innocence.html and http://zaharibuisinnocent.weebly.com/index.html.
Dendron Utter, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies studying prison activism with Anthropology Department Chair Andrej Grubacic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org