Our trip to Jackson, MS to track down trial transcripts was for the most part successful. We spent more time at the archives than we had expected because of the complicated filing system that made it difficult to locate files. It actually took most of us a day with several trips from the archives to the state Supreme Court clerk’s office before we were able to locate the transcripts. Even then, the oldest case file from 1987 was no where to be found with no explanation as to why it was gone. In that case, we are hoping the defense attorney still has a file with the transcript.
We read the transcripts to gather information about key witnesses and evidence that could give us a better idea as to what could prove or disprove a prisoner’s innocence claim. In reading through the transcripts it became evident that some of the prisoners were convicted on very little evidence and/or weak testimony. Also, most of the cases took place in smaller communities where the jurors knew a majority of the trial participants, leaving me to wonder how the defendant was guaranteed a fair trial.
The information we gathered from the transcripts and the research we will be engaged in in the coming days will determine if IPNO deems our cases appropriate for increased review at which time full-fledged investigations will be conducted. This means that with the 3 days left of our trip, most of that time will be spent on the road traveling across southern Mississippi to speak with the prisoners themselves, the defense attorneys, and key witnesses.
We started tracking down witnesses Friday but soon discovered a major challenge with this task. Due to Hurricane Katrina, many people not only evacuated their homes but have also relocated multiple times since their evacuation, assuming they have returned to their home states in the first place. There are still thousands of people from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama spread through out the rest of the country. There are still families searching for missing relatives, unsure if they are even alive. As far as we know, there is no directory of persons living in FEMA trailers either.
Courtney and I drove to Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis along the Gulf Coast. It was immediately evident that smaller communities past the New Orleans' city limits, if not completely wiped off the map, are still rebuilding. Even along the highway we could see empty shopping centers, houses, and apartment complexes. We were told that before Katrina, there were beautiful towns all along the Gulf but that the hurricane destroyed most of these. Indeed driving through Gulfport to locate one house, Erin and Reka entered a cul-de-sac where the house should have been only to find nothing.