March of 1997, two families were changed forever. Two mothers lost a son, children lost fathers and family members lost the presence of a loved one.
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For the family that lost a member as a victim to violence, I humble myself to ask for your forgiveness as the man I am now for what happen as the child I was.
My action caused heartache and pain. I've prayed countless nights and days for forgiveness on my part and for the comfort of God's graces be given to you.
At age 18, still a kid, one moment of fear caused a reaction which condemned me to carry a burden for the rest of my life.
Now 35, no longer the child that acted out of fear 16 years ago, yet I must suffer in my regret and suffer in my imprisonment for the act of a kid in fear. That kid then is not the man I am now. In spite of that, remorse haunts me daily. Each day I face the reality of his family as well as my family separated from a son, a father and a brother.
This is my story:
Intoxicated from a day of marijuana smoking, heavy drinking of forty ounce beers and fifth of brandy, so intoxicated that my memory of the incident is vague and mainly from what I was told. I do not remember clearly any of that night that lead me to doing a life sentence in prison. Which is part of my torment to be in prison all my adult life for something I don't remember and only knowing for sure I felt fear in that moment.
There was an argument and shouting between me and another man. At the end of the argument I was walking away with my back to him, he yelled the threat of, "I'll kill you!". As I turned around he was reaching into his coat for a gun. I knew him fairly well and he was known for carrying a gun. Fear overwhelmed me, he was killed. In that few seconds of drunken cloudiness and fear the result is both of our families enduring the loss.
Me as the 18 year old kid 16 years ago is no longer here. Same as the man who died in his 20's is no longer here. Fear for my life and ignorance fueled by intoxication brought the end of two lives. See, he died 16 years ago. My life ended by being put in prison with 29 years to life.
Prior to that incident I was an 18 year old single parent. I just earned my diploma in adult school and set on starting college in the following spring. Instead of college, I was 19 years old sitting in a two day trial that ended on my 20th birthday. The district attorney thought it would be fitting for me to be found guilty on my birthday. The verdict of guilty was set as a plan from the start, and even scheduled for my birthday. My trial was a classic railroad in which the supposedly defense attorney was involved. The state appointed attorney for my trial defense refused to gather statements from witnesses on my behalf. He refused to speak to me about building a trial defense. Refused calls and ignored letters from me in the months before trial. As I said, I don't remember the incident well. What was told to me is he shot first at me. With witnesses of this to testify for me, would be the major difference between the murder I was charged with and the manslaughter I should have been charged with. It's also the difference of doing time and getting released and doing this continuous life term.
I could not afford good representation. The state appointed attorney had no defense to enter trial with. At one point he tried to convince me to plead guilty, saying it's not worth his time. He only gets $3000 from the state for my case and that's not enough to work for. The district attorney (prosecution) and the state defense attorney conspired from the very start, I had no chance.
The attorney and I spoke twice in seven months. At each court appearance he would only talk to the district attorney about their lunches and weekend plans. They are/were friends who took my legal rights less serious than lunch time jokes. My plea to the judge for a different attorney was denied. Being naïve and new to the justice system I didn't know at the time how bad my situation was and that it would get worse.
Riverside County has the highest conviction rate in California and also the highest conviction overturn rate. In all, if you can afford an attorney it won't happen to you. The vast majority of the convictions are against people who are not original Riverside residents. I myself came from Compton, California and was viewed as an unwanted outsider to their justice system. My city of origin was mentioned in the trial with a constant comparison of inner city versus suburban city, though it had no legal relevance.
To ensure a conviction, the district attorney used intimidation with threats of jail time and placing children in child services for witnesses to comply. Witnesses were to only say parts that would prosecute me and not allow the full truth to be on record. Riverside's District Attorney's Office has been investigated by the State and private watch groups for overzealous prosecution and sued countless times for criminal and civil violations.
I should not be doing a life sentence for a self defense act done out of fear as a kid. I was threatened by an armed man who had a history of violence. No man should spend all of his life in prison for an act done as a fearful kid, especially when I can't clearly remember it. The man I am now is not that kid any longer.
Since my incarceration, I've taken advantage of every opportunity to self educate for the purpose of helping others. I'm capable of being a productive, crime free and contributing person to society. I know the pain and hardship of this purgatory called prison first hand. So I want to keep future generations out of this place and spare families the sacrifice and hardships tied to a loved one in prison, as well as the victim of crime. It does affect everyone to be in prison, not just the person on the inside. His/her family, the person the crime is against and their family, all feel the hardship. For many, this can be avoided. My education and life experience enables me to teach youth in intervention.
Studies I have participated in as a student and taught included Critical Thinking, Anger Management, Substance Abuse Program, Alcoholics Anonymous, Parenting, Narcotic Anonymous, adult reading tutor, Criminal Rehabilitation and earned an A.A. in business by correspondence. All of which I use to help other prisoners.
I want to help at risk youth to prevent them from becoming a future generation of prisoners. By working with city leaders and officials who share the vision of giving at risk youth better opportunities for becoming productive crime free adults in society. Reducing the affects of crime on families, reducing the imprisonment of future generations with education and positive mentoring influence, as well as qualified youth guidance counselors. All implemented through a non-profit group. Established to create a positive environment for at risk youth. Tutoring, mentoring, guidance counselors and intervention would be the format.
With me leading intervention classes; guidance counselors would give individual advice and support to each youth; mentors from a variety of professions would give instruction and guidance from personal experiences, along with mentorship in their field/career. All of which would be combined with education.
After school tutoring grades 6 through 12 with college students as tutors allowing the college age students to earn credits as interns and gain experience. In turn, the college students will be mentored by a professional in the career they are seeking. This will create a positive cycle of giving back to younger/future generations. As the grade school students enter college they become tutors, the college grades become future mentors completing a positive cycle.
That is a personal goal to set in motion once released from prison, making myself an example of positive change.
My need is for proper legal representation. In order to obtain an experience professional, money has to be raised. The objective is to present a defense in a court though a Habeas Corpus attorney. I am seeking to be represented in court fitting the manner I deserved in trial that was denied in 1998. I have spoken to an attorney and after review of my case, he is capable and willing to represent me. Acquiring witness statements and presenting a fully competent legal defense representation to the court, which is what I needed 16 years ago. The only people given equal treatment under the law are those who can afford it. Please help me be able to afford it. Please help me be able to afford it so I can be a man to my family and a contribution to future generations.
All donations given will be used ONLY for legal fees of my attorney. Any amount given is very much appreciated, all donations are seen as a blessing.
I must conclude with another expression of sympathy and grief for the family of the victim. No words could heal your wounds. My remorseful penitence will never be enough to give back what you've lost or to ease your hurt. I've prayed for God's forgiveness and that you could see it in your hearts to forgive me as well. May you all be blessed with peace and prosperity.
If you have questions, you can write me at:
Mr. Charles J. McCraw
PO Box 5102
Delano, CA 93216-5102
Please Do Not mail donation to me. Please send through this site.