To the Editor:
The lead article in the Aug. 24, 2000, Culpeper Star Exponent about the case of Earl Washington Jr. was horribly written even by Star Exponent standards. In the first inch of it the dates of events are wrong and the number of children who were at home at the time of the crime is wrong. In the second column, Al Martin III writes that Earl Washington has been on death row up until the present moment. This is wrong and a serious mistake. Washington was moved from death row to life imprisonment by Governor – not Gilmore, not Allen, but — Wilder. I know it’s hard to keep up with the pace of events when you’re paying reporters poverty wages and replacing them every few weeks, but come on. This at least merits a retraction.
Also in the second column you give the impression that the U.S. Supreme Court has heard the case. It declined to hear the case. On the same first page of the article you call a trial a trail, and you include a quote suggesting that appeals are still going on. All that is going on, is that Gov. Gilmore has had evidence tested and has not revealed the results. Part of the deal with Wilder in moving Washington off death row involved foregoing the possibility of future appeals.
Gary Close is, of course, to be applauded for wanting lawyers to tell the truth. But why did you include that comment in this article? Are you, or is he, implying that lawyers acting on Washington’s behalf are lying? You certainly give that impression, but then you don’t explain it. This is fair to neither Close nor Washington’s lawyers, who – I’m guessing – would not appreciate being called liars.
The second page of your article is just as bad. You discuss various tests of evidence in the case, and you give the impression you are paraphrasing statements made by Close. But these statements are ambiguous as to whether they are discussing the results of earlier tests or the results of tests still being kept secret by Gilmore. A hasty reader would, I believe, conclude that the latest tests have, at least on Close’s interpretation, failed to conclusively clear Washington. This is fair to neither Close nor Washington.
Then you say that part of the case against Washington was made by eyewitnesses. Which part of the case was that exactly? The only “eyewitnesses” described a black male who was unlike Washington in every detail except for being black and male. (And they all described only ONE black male, something to bear in mind when new test results are interpreted as not clearing Washington because there could have been two murderers.) Do you even try to find out facts before you publish?
Probably the worst offense in this horrendous article is the statement that “the alleged victim” of a Fauquier County rape was not permitted to testify against Washington in the Culpeper trial and that the rape charge in her case was dropped as part of a plea agreement. The charge was dropped because the woman said Washington had not tried to rape her. Can you guess how much that testimony would have helped the prosecution in Culpeper?
You owe an apology to Mr. Washington and to the county of Culpeper which has to read this trash in a vain attempt to keep informed.
cc: Culpeper News, Richmond Times Dispatch, Barry Weinstein