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No Justice for Black Men:
A True Story of Leroy Dillard

by Herbert L. Dennard

It happens time and time again in our justice system in the United States, and somehow, we continue to be surprised that the justice system many times, works against African Americans. We were surprised when teenager Trayvon Martin was murdered, and George Zimmerman was not convicted. We were surprised when a couple of months later, Marissa Alexander was jailed for shooting a gun in the air for the same Stand Your Ground law.

I must say in my 69 years of living that I have seen some true injustices, but five years ago, I witnessed one of the greatest injustices that I have ever seen, in all my years of covering the news as a publisher.
A man convicted of burglary was sentenced to 20 years in a Georgia state penitentiary. The man carried no weapon and threatened no person; in fact, I don't believe that he had any criminal intent on his mind whatsoever. He was simply intoxicated. This man's only arrest in his lifetime was for a DUI; he has no felony criminal record. The man is African American, convicted by a jury of 11 whites and I black, hardly a jury of his peers.

According to Leroy Dillard (the convicted), he and some friends went to a party held in a home in Douglasville, Georgia. There was considerable consumption of beer and alcohol at this party and Leroy became intoxicated. After several beers, Leroy stepped outside the apartment to urinate because no bathroom was available. After taking care of his business in some bushes a distance from the door, Leroy could not remember which house he had come from. The first house he attempted to enter was locked. Thinking he was one house away, he entered the next house, which was unlocked. Stumbling in, Leroy knocked over a television that was just inside the home, awakening the residents. The occupants called the police and reported that Leroy had broken in and was trying to steal the TV. Officers arrived at the scene and arrested Leroy down the street, charging him with attempted burglary.

Leroy had no weapon, threatened no one, and in fact, didn't even realize that he was in the wrong house. Intoxicated, he remembers nothing of the incident except that he knocked something over. Without a car or a driver’s license, one wonders how Leroy was planning to run off with the large TV. Leroy even had money in his pocket -- about $100. He was clearly intoxicated. The DA's office admits to his being drunk, but claims that intoxication is no defense for the crime of burglary.     
When sentencing occurred, Superior Court Judge William H. McClain called Leroy a liar and a thief and handed down an unbelievable sentence -- 20 years for burglary and 10 years for criminal attempt -- 30 years total. Leroy must serve 20 years and then serve probation for the remaining 10 years. 

I conclude that even if Leroy were lying (and I don't believe that he is), 30 years for a first offender is ludicrous. Leroy was not armed and never even had the television in his possession. Leroy worked for the Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia; his pastor is the Dr. E. Dewey Smith. Reverend Smith made a plea for a shorter sentence and was completely ignored during the sentencing. It seems that injustice is alive and well in Douglas County, Georgia.   

Since the conviction five years ago, there have been several attempts to appeal this decision, but unfortunately, the justice system for appeals is just as bad. The Dillard family learned that the first step to an appeal in Georgia was to try to convince the judge to overturn his or her own decision. The family spent about two years getting the run around before they finally received a negative answer from the judge. Sometimes during this time, the attorney who was hired by Leroy's family was promoted to district attorney. Because he could not keep his cases and do his new job at the same time (conflict of interest), he turned Leroy's case over to another attorney. In other words, the family paid about $15,000 to one attorney for a job, but the case was turned over to another one who was not paid for it; therefore, the new attorney wasn’t as motivated to winning the appeal.

Every time I think of Leroy, it makes me angry. It is hard to believe that sentences like this one are given to white men with the same offenses. Leroy was sentenced to more years than a person who committed assault with a deadly weapon or even murder. How is it that someone who was sentenced around the same time with a heavier offense will be out years ahead of someone whose only crime was being drunk and at the wrong place at the wrong time? Leroy displayed bad judgment. Does it warrant him losing the rest of his middle aged life in prison?



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Gwenette Westbrooks
Leroy Dillard