A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

HOW $20 IN CRACK LED TO FIFTY YEARS IN PRISON

In the entire transcript of the trial before the jury, in the recorded comments in the judge's chambers, nowhere is there a single comment by the defendant that indicates he thought he was being targeted because of his color.

After being convicted by the jury, Harper appeared before the judge for sentencing. The presentence report recommended a term of fifteen years; however, the County Attorney's Office asked that both counts, possession with intent to sell and sale, be stacked so that Harper would have to serve his terms consecutively rather than concurrently. Although there was nothing introduced in the trial to prove his contention, at the time of sentencing the prosecutor told the judge that Harper was an associate of the Crips, a charge he denies.

Judge Ventre asked Harper if he had anything to say.
Harper: " . . . See, both of the police officers were, you know, just telling-- lying. I don't know, didn't nobody even see it? He [referring to his public defender Robert C. Billar] didn't see it. I kept telling him what was going on and he wouldn't even listen to me. Therefore, that's probably why I lost it because I didn't have no help on my side."

Judge Ventre: "Are you telling me you're not satisfied with the services of Mr. Billar?"

Harper: "No. He did not help me at all. You know what I'm saying?"
Judge Ventre: "Can you cite anything in particular other than what you've told me?"

Harper: "Well, the more I got, you know, written down I didn't think I was going to need it."

After reviewing the verdict, Harper's record and the presentence report, the judge concluded that Harper was a threat to society, sentenced him to fifty years and fined him nearly $6,000 to be paid at the rate of $75 per month after he is released from prison .

Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, do you understand the sentences that have been imposed upon you?"

Harper: "Not really, but I would like to say something, though."
Judge Ventre: "Certainly."
Harper: "For one thing, okay, I asked for a line-up, man, the police, they didn't know who I was and they admitted that. You know what I'm saying?"

Judge Ventre: "These are matters you want to talk to your attorney about on the appeal. I'm sure one will filed in this matter."

Harper: "I want this down anyway. They admitted they didn't know who I was and they said I was weighing 150, they never did see me. Why didn't they give me a line-up, why couldn't they give me no line-up?"

Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, this has all been gone over and I'm not sure . . . "

Harper: "I do have a right to a line-up, right?"
Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, I don't know, okay? What I'm trying to make sure of is if you understand the sentence."

Harper: "No, I don't understand it, man."
Judge Ventre: "What you're looking at is fifty years in prison, consecutive, two 25-year terms. Do you understand that?"

Harper: "I guess, man."
Judge Ventre: "I'm satisfied from what I see in your record that the longer I keep you off of the street, the longer you and the community at large are going to be safe from each other."

Harper: "Well, whatever."
Judge Ventre: "Apparently you don't even care."
Harper: "I do care, man. Don't you know I do care, myself? If I had had a lawyer, I wouldn't have even had to go through this. You know, something that's going to help me, man, you know, man. I really shouldn't have had to go through this, man. The police didn't know who I was, you know, they still don't know who I am."

Judge Ventre: "They're going to know after fifty years."
Harper: "Yeah, they know now. Yeah, they know now."
Judge Ventre: "Mr. Harper, the evidence at trial was somewhat conclusive that you were the person involved in this situation."

Harper: "Even if I was the person that sold them the dope, how come they came back with four pieces when there was supposed to have been one rock, why did they come back with four? That's not the same dope."

Judge Ventre: "I can't explain that, but what I want to make sure of is if you understand the sentencing. I'm going to ask you to sign a notice of right to appeal together with such other documents that might require your signature. Your attorney will explain those to you, sir.

"If you wish to exercise your right of appeal, you must file a notice of that right within twenty days or forever lose that right of appeal. If you cannot afford an attorney to prosecute the appeal, then the court will provide you both with counsel and copies of the necessary records and transcripts of these proceedings. Do you understand that? Mr. Harper, do you understand what I have said?"

Harper: "I don't know what you're talking about, understand what?"
Judge Ventre: "Do you understand you have to file a notice of appeal within twenty days if you want to appeal from the judgment of the court or the sentences that have been imposed? Do you understand you need to file that notice of appeal?"

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