EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see our update at the end of this post.
Andy Boy, you don't want to go there.
That's all we could think about after we read a nasty little attack on our coverage of the Bryant Wilkerson trial at the conservative blog www.sonoranalliance.com -- posted by supporters of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Thomas, of course, has now announced that he's exploring a run for attorney general. And it's pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that his office's handling of the Wilkerson affair -- in which a black man was held responsible for a fatal accident, even as the drunk white teen involved was given a slap on the wrist -- may come back to haunt him.
The bad news is, Thomas' little buddies commenting on the site, Rachel and Barnett -- oops, we mean "Jerrod" and "LarryB" -- provide some misinformation for readers who might not be familiar with the ins and outs of this complicated case.
But the good news is, we stand ready to set the record straight!
First, a tiny bit of background. After a black postal clerk named Bryant Wilkerson executed a legal U-turn on the Bush Highway, he collided with an SUV driven by 17-year-old Laura Varker. Varker's passenger was killed.
Wilkerson panicked and fled the scene -- and, not surprisingly, when they caught up to him, Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies assumed he was guilty and charged him with a host of felonies, including manslaughter. It was only in the wake of the accident, when toxicology tests showed that Varker was drunk and Wilkerson wasn't, that prosecutors at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office began behaving strangely. They refused to prosecute Varker (it wasn't until New Times got involved that she was even charged with a DUI) and insisted on prosecuting Wilkerson, even though he offered time and again to plead guilty to leaving the scene.
At trial, he was vindicated -- jurors found Wilkerson "not guilty" on all counts, save the one he offered to plead to from the get-go.
Got that? Okay, then you're ready for our response to "Jerrod" and "LarryB"'s lies.
LIE #1 -- the cops couldn't have even known Wilkerson was black.
Jerrod writes, "The guy doesn't really look black (see his booking photo here - http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2009-03-26/news/bryant-wilkerson-is-facing-jail-for-a-fatal-accident-but-if-a-drunk-driver-hits-you-is-it-your-fault/), and so when Phoenix Police arrested him, they checked "white" on the police report."
WRONG! It was the Sheriff's Office, not the Phoenix PD, that made the arrest. Plus, "Jerrod" links a portrait New Times took of Wilkerson more than a year after the accident. Check out his mug shot posted at the beginning of this post, taken the night of the accident. Then we dare you to try to say Wilkerson doesn't look black.
LIE #2 -- trial observers thought New Times went too far in its coverage.
Jerrod writes, "The scuttlebutt among defense attorneys who hang out downtown at court
is that the New Times went too far on this one to portray the county
attorney as racist, it's not believable."
WRONG! Nice try, but the trial was held in the Mesa branch of Superior Court, not downtown. We attended every day and never saw any defense attorneys "hanging out," either. And don't take our word for it. Just ask the jurors, who -- in a move that Judge Teresa Sanders acknowledged was absolutely unprecedented -- actually returned for Wilkerson's sentencing to argue for leniency. New Times spoke with four and chatted with another one over email; they were universally horrified by the county attorney's handling of the case.
LIE #3 Thomas prosecuted the right driver.
LarryB writes, "there was nothing racist about the Wilkerson prosecution."
WRONG! Okay, maybe it wasn't motivated strictly by race. We suspect money and stubborness and sheer stupidity played a role, too. But Thomas simply can't claim he's proud of the way his office handled this case. To see what a train wreck this thing was, we urge you to take a look at our most recent column on this case. (It's online here.)
The summary version: Thanks to Thomas' office, the other driver in the case, Laura Varker, served just one day in jail for both shoplifting and her role in the accident that killed her passenger -- despite (while being on probation) racking up more arrests for shoplifting, being in possession of stolen property, and failing to yield at an intersection.
If Andrew Thomas is going to run on his record of being "tough on crime," he'd better explain why he treated Laura Varker with kid gloves while attempting to railroad Bryant Wilkerson. If it wasn't racism, does that mean money talks? or that he's just a moron?
UPDATE: We got an email message last night from Barnett Lotstein, a top aide to Andrew Thomas, who didn't appreciate our tongue-in-chief suggestion earlier in this post that he might be "Jerrod" or "LarryB."
"I have never submitted an article or comment to Sonoran Alliance," Lotstein wrote us. "I have no idea who Jarrod or Larry B is. However I am not surprised at your failure to know facts before publishing accusations. You seem to make a habit of jumping to unfounded conclusions." Duly noted.
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