By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Black activists, lawmakers, and family members have launched campaigns to lobby outgoing Governor Ralph Northam to grant pardons to many people they believe were victims of discrimination imposed by the criminal justice system.
On January 15, conservative Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, Lieutenant General-Elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-Elect Jason Miyares will take office.
Republicans also won a two-seat majority in the House of Delegates during the 2021 General Election last month.
Civil rights activists, Democrats, and families believe that the new Republican administration will not be sensitive to the issue of criminal justice reform and equity as have Northam and Democrats in the legislature. leading to a roll back.
So, they are urging Northam to sign off on applications for pardons sitting on his desk before leaving office January 15.
One of the most notable cases being highlighted involves Brian Faulcon.
A decade ago, Faulcon, now 37, was accused of robbing a pizza delivery woman at gunpoin. Faulcon, with a friend, Branden Smith were arrested, and accused of the crime.
Both were charged shortly after the robbery in January 2012, in an area near Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake.
Faulcon, who maintains his innocence, is slated to be released in January 2023, according to Cynthia Faulcon, his mother. She, activists and supportive lawmakers held a press conference on December 18 to make their point.
The family began a pardon petition drive during the summer, she said, after all, his appeals were exhausted. Their online petition calling on Faulcon to be released had garnered more than 2,500 signatures by December 18.
“He has kept his spirits up,” Cynthia Faulcon said. “He is hopeful that justice will prevail.”
Brian Falcon ran an auto detailing business, was a substitute teacher and basketball coach at the time of the arrest, according to his family, who have fought to have him exonerated over the past 10 years.
The victim of the robbery said she had just gotten out of her car to make a delivery when two men wearing hoodies approached. One had a gun and robbed her.
According to a Chesapeake Police Department news release, officers responding to the scene saw two men run into a house.
After questioning the two men, the officers executed a search warrant and arrested Faulcon and his close friend Brian Smith. Charges were dropped against Smith, but not Faulcon.
During the recent press conference, Smith joined Faulcon’s family, lawmakers, and rights activists, demanding that Faulcon be released and detailed several serious flaws in the prosecution’s case against him.
Smith said during the press event, he and his friend were handcuffed in separate police cars.
Smith said the police brought the victim over and asked if she recognized them.
She positively identified Faulcon, but was not sure about him.
The two were charged with robbery and using a gun to commit a felony. But charges against Smith were dropped, and he was not convicted.
Brian Randleman, an activist representing the NAACP, said during the press conference police used the tactic called “show up” which is a sudden introduction of the victim and the suspects.
Randleman explained that victims are usually emotional and traumatized and could make mistakes identifying suspects.
Another factor, Smith said, was the male DNA evidence which was found in three of her pockets did not match Faulcon or his.
Faulcon wore a light striped hoodie not a solid black one as the woman noted. Also, she said that the gun used by the assailants was silver. Faulcon had a black colored gun he was licensed to own.
The victim said one robber was slightly taller. Smith is six feet three inches tall — about six inches taller than Faulcon.
While the charges against Smith were dismissed, Faulcon’s first trial ended with a hung jury and a second was declared a mistrial.
He was convicted at his third trial, in April 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison.
Smith also questioned the fairness of asking a victim to identify an attacker immediately afterward when they are highly emotional.
“The evidence does not add up,” said Del. Cliff Hayes, who represents he 77th District and was one of the speakers at the media gathering.
He is a longtime friend of the Faulcon family.
The evidence does not add up,” said Del. Cliff Hayes, one of the speakers at the event and a longtime friend of the Faulcon family.
“Some of the processes that took place (in this case) were not fair and just.”
Hayes, the state delegate, said he believes Virginia should abolish show-up identifications and hopes to bring it up before the General Assembly at its next session.
“We are working against the clock to get Brian released,” said Randleman. “The incoming Governor campaigned and promised increased incarceration and support for the police in these cases.
“Justice and civil rights are not a priority of the incoming Republican administration. So, we hope that Brian can be freed as soon as possible”
One example of one of the successes of such advocacy being placed on Northam involves Lawrence Stephens.
He was a homeless restaurant worker and18 years old in 2001.
According to court records, he and several accomplices committed a home invasion robbery in the Seaford section of York County. According to his attorney at the time, no shots were fired, and no one was injured.
Stephens, Paul Melendres, and Darnell Nolen were arrested and tried in Circuit Court. York Country Judge Prentis Smiley Jr. imposed on Stephens a sentence that seemed excessive.
Melendres, who is white and masterminded the crime, received 10 years; Darnell Nolen, 17-year-old, who is Black, got 35 years; and Stephens, who is Black, got a sentence of 1,823 years in prison.
Judge Smiley retired from the bench and died in 2008 and his sentencing of Smith was an example of excessive sentencing of people of color by the courts.
Gaylene Kanoyton, president of the Hampton NAACP, and Rebecca Winn, an attorney, and the group’s legal redress chair, investigated this case and filed a petition for a conditional pardon in September.
Governor Northam has agreed to sign off on it.
The Stephens case is just one case on the civil rights group’s radar.
“Racism, it’s not a level playing field … we still have many inmates in the same situation,” said Kanoyton, who is also probing a Suffolk case.
“I was especially alarmed to read that the prosecutor was not even sure of the full scope of the role that Mr. Stephens played during the acts in question apart from the role played by his co-defendants,” Attorney Winn wrote in her petition.
Winn, in her petition to the Governor, uncovered inadequate representation from the prosecution and the defense.
Winn also said the court-appointed attorney who represented Stephens was later found guilty of failing to accurately represent his client.
“He actually eventually [was] convicted by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board for his unethical conduct in his representation of Mr. Stephens,” Winn said.
Winn said under state sentencing guidelines, Stephens should have been sentenced to 13 years in prison.
On December 17, after 19 years in prison, Stephens learned that Northam has issued a conditional pardon.
He will be a free man in 30 to 60 days.