Charles Zafir Lawson
Edited excerpts of Charles Lawson’s statements and letter to The Honorable Edward C. Wright.
Dear Honorable Judge Edward C. Wright,
I write you with the hope that I might earn your reconsideration in connection to your intentions to dismiss the pleadings I have coming before you on 11-19-20. The fact that I now approach this matter from this posture, making a personal appeal, may seem unprecedented, but I have learned that you cannot address the atrocities or the effects of the systemic racism that plague my case "with formal proposals".
I am now 63 years old and have spent more than 37 years of my life in prison in connection to a crime I did not commit. I have formally addressed this grievous matter with in the courts for the past 30 years. The Court response has always been to turn a blind eye to my arguments. I only ask to be held accountable for the crime I did commit - and not for the conviction of a crime I did not commit.
This is my account of what occurred and has led to my wrongful sentence of life without parole.
In 1973, at the age of 17, I was arrested and taken through an ordeal of fear, intimidation and violence where, with no parent present or legal representation, surrounded by uniform and plain clothes officers, I was forced to confess to a crime I did not commit. The tactics employed were commonly known in my community. I was handcuffed to a chair. To conceal bruising, phone books were placed between my body and the blows to come. I was beaten with night sticks while being besieged with questions from all sides.
At trial I was convicted on the basis of the confession – even after I took the stand and told what really took place. The only saving grace I found in this ordeal was that in 1978 the PA Supreme court overturned that conviction and gave me a new trial.
On retrial I was again under the pressure of coercion – this time it came in the form of a plea agreement. The Prosecution pressured me by saying that if I did not accept the plea bargain to Voluntary Manslaughter (5 – 15 years with automatic release after 5 years) they would take me back to trial and find me guilty again of 1st Degree Murder. The traumatic experiences I had with the police, as well as the traumatic effects of being flung into an adult correctional facility at a young age where I had to fend off the advances of predatory older convicts, frightened me enough to accept the plea deal. Had I known the law in 1978, when I was 22, I would have known that they could not use the false confession because it had been obtained through physical and mental coercion.
Years after this ordeal, I once again was facing criminal charges – this time it was because of something I did. Caught up in the drug epidemic of the 1980’s, addicted to drugs, I placed myself in a life or death situation where, to save my own life which had been threatened, I did take someone’s life. The Judge did not accept my self-defense argument and found me guilty of 3rd Degree Murder. Because of the prior plea bargain to a crime I did not commit, under Pennsylvania’s Recidivism Law, the Judge imposed the mandatory sentence of life without parole.
I now ask that you not only review my situation from its Procedural Stand Point, but that you also call upon your "Astute Insight and Sensibility". If you find any Reasonableness in the allegations I have presented, I implore you to grant me this Reasonable Doubt.
The systematic racism that has plagued our criminal Justice system in this country for so long is currently being uncovered. Revealed is that law enforcement professionals, who are sworn to uphold the law, have been using oppressive forms of law and order that violate the rights and liberties of citizens. This certainly has been my experience. Yet while there are videos of present day injustices and abuses, there are no videos or voice recordings of the physical and mental coercions I have experienced – there are only my words.
It behooves us to root systemic injustice, oppressive forms of law and order out of our legal system. Your Honor, as a member of the Judiciary, I implore you to listen to my account and correct these wrongs done to me in my youth by those in positions of power. I appeal to you to show the courage and fortitude required to be, "Judicious". Correct and weed out some of the corruption that plagues our Courts. Speak out where others have remained silent for so long.
I thank you for your attention in reading my testimonial of Fact, Law and my Personal Character.
Mr. Charles H. Lawson
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