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Al Sharpton Whups Sheriff Joe, and Courtney Bisbee’s Innocence Claim Is Shot Down by a Judge

GRANVILLE'S ANVIL

Last year, when I was writing about Arizona prisoner Courtney Bisbee and her fight for freedom, in the cover story "Nursing Injustice," I spoke with Judge Warren Granville by phone and wondered whether, when the case came back to him, he would be able to admit that he'd been mistaken in sending Bisbee to prison for 11 years on bogus child-molestation charges.

Before I give you Granville's reply, I'll need to run through a little history.

See, back in 2006, Bisbee and her family played roulette with her life and bet on Granville's black robe. On the advice of her attorney at the time, Joel Thompson, Bisbee waived her right to a jury trial, opting for a bench trial with Granville. Bisbee and her family now say Thompson persuaded them to do so by claiming a social relationship with Granville, a former prosecutor.

Thompson never answered the claim, hanging up on me shortly after I called him for a comment, saying only, "Some people hire a lawyer so they have an excuse, someone to blame." Granville denied that he's ever had a social relationship with Thompson, but he speculated that his father and Thompson's father may have known each other and worked together.

At the time I spoke with Granville, Bisbee's current attorney, Ulises Ferragut, was preparing a humdinger of a post-conviction-relief petition, part of the appeal process in which the convicted can claim ineffective assistance of counsel, bring forward new evidence, and raise other legal issues. Bisbee's case had been full of holes from jump. She was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old boy named Jon Valles, whom she had come to know through his brother, Nik Valles, a student at Horizon High School, where Bisbee was the school nurse.

Bisbee, a single mom, used the Valles boys and a small circle of their friends to babysit her 4-year-old daughter, Taylor Lee. The prosecution alleged Bisbee, 33, formed a romantic attachment with Jon Valles and had kissed him twice before a touching incident. Supposedly, the touching had occurred at the home of Donovan Kemp, where the Valles boys were staying. In a bedroom filled with children, Bisbee had supposedly thrown a blanket over herself and Jon, placing his hand down her pants and her hand down his.

That Bisbee, who was close to completing a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Phoenix, would have molested Jon Valles in the presence of several witnesses is particularly difficult to swallow. But as soon as the Scottsdale Police Department started investigating the matter, the case got bungled.

There's no record, for instance, of Scotts­dale Detective Christopher Kinder visiting the scene of the crime. And Kinder failed to secure key physical evidence during his investigation. He did not take into evidence the blanket beneath which the groping was said to have taken place. And though Bisbee was being held without bond, he did not order a routine physical examination of her. This was important because Jon Valles had told Kinder that Bisbee's pubic region was "smooth."

Kinder also made misstatements to the first grand jury in the case, testifying that Bisbee confessed to an illicit touch, though no such confession had occurred. On the basis of that testimony, Bisbee was held non-bondable for 66 days. And in interviewing Jon's brother, Nik, Kinder accused the boy of lying when Nik didn't tell him what he wanted to hear.

Nik's always-reluctant testimony was a key part of the case against Bisbee and was cited as such in prosecutor Paul Kittredge's closing statement. Nik essentially put his brother and Bisbee in the same room at the same time, and he insinuated the two had a romantic relationship. But since Bisbee's conviction, Nik has recanted his testimony in a sworn affidavit, which accuses his brother of committing perjury and his mother, Janette Sloan, of coaching the boys in their testimony. Her motive, according to Nik, was financial gain.

"I witnessed my mother, Janette Sloan, [telling] my brother, Jonathan Valles, to lie and stick with the story and, 'You'll be a rich kid,'" Nik stated in the 2007 affidavit, which was part of the new evidence presented in Bisbee's post-conviction-relief petition.

In fact, shortly after Bisbee was convicted in 2006, Sloan sued Bisbee and the family of Donovan Kemp. Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled for the ridiculously low sum of $5,000. Go-away pocket change, essentially. Ironically, during depositions for the case, Bisbee's civil attorney, Scott Ambrose, scored a plum witness, Sarah Babcock, Jon Valles' 16-year-old ex-girlfriend. Babcock testified under oath that Jon had confessed to her that his accusations against Bisbee were false.

"He said that him and the nurse didn't do anything," Babcock said under questioning by Ambrose. "That his mom was making him . . . say that for the money."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons