Free Eric Echols!

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One of my constant writing themes over the past several years has been the outright lawlessness of government authorities at all levels, from federal to the local police and magistrates. I must admit that I am at the point in my life where I expect the police, prosecutors, and judges to break the law, and to give the rest of us the middle finger.

There are many reasons for this lawlessness, but it seems to me that immunity that the courts and legislatures have conferred on police, prosecutors, judges, and others in the "justice" system is the root cause of the problem. People who know they can lie, break the law, fabricate false evidence, and not have to face legal sanctions are not going to feel constrained to act in a trustworthy manner. (What the courts and legislatures are saying, ironically, is that police, prosecutors, and judges should not be subject to the same legal procedures that are imposed upon the rest of us. As in Orwell’s Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others.)

Instead, they are more likely to feel as though they are Masters of the Universe and do what they want without fear of consequences. This brings us, then, to the strange and unbelievable case of Eric Echols, who is facing felony witness tampering charges in Catoosa County, Georgia.

Echols, an African-American and an ex-Marine, is a serious and stand-up guy. I have seen his work as a private investigator, and he is good, but also very professional, and I would not hesitate for a moment to hire him. In fact, he was arrested while doing his job and doing it legally.

Readers of one of my blogs know that I have written extensively on the trial and aftermath of the Tonya Craft case. Craft, the former kindergarten teacher who earlier this year was acquitted of all charges for alleged child molestation, had hired Echols to investigate the facts of the case, and he did a good job.

In fact, Echols was doing such a good job that he caught the attention of the prosecutors, Christopher Arnt and Len Gregor, who were pursuing the case. One of people Echols interviewed, Jerry McDonald, had a daughter who was one of the accusers, but McDonald had serious doubts about the way that the "investigators" from the local Children’s Advocacy Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, had interviewed his child and believed that perhaps Tonya Craft had not done anything to his child. (This interview is both transcribed and recorded. I have the transcript in my possession.)

Obviously, it would not be good for the prosecutors if one of the star witnesses pulled out of the case, so Arnt and Gregor did what prosecutors often do: they threatened McDonald with "obstruction of justice" if he did not do their bidding. In fact, during the trial, McDonald did their bidding to the point where he claimed — under oath — that he had not spoken to Echols at all, despite the fact that he and the prosecutors, not to mention the defense, knew he was committing perjury.

Because Craft was involved in a child custody dispute with her ex-husband, Joal Henke, there was a civil case on the side, and Echols delivered a legal subpoena to the mother of the "star" accuser, a "child actress" who even recited her own movie lines as "evidence" against Craft during the trial, lines that had nothing to do with the charges at hand.

The mother, Sandra Lamb, had spoken to Arnt, and according to the legal document that Lamb filed with the court (which I also have in my possession), her "attorney friend Arnt" advised her not to accept the subpoena. This means that Arnt allegedly stepped outside of his role as a prosecutor in order to give legal advice in a private case, which should (but probably won’t given the lawlessness of Georgia courts) make him legally vulnerable in a lawsuit.

However, the main event of Echols’ July, 2009, visit to the Catoosa County home of Sandra Lamb was not her refusal to accept the subpoena, but rather her violent attack on Echols that is seen in the video linked here. In it, her son is illegally blocking the road with a car (and if that is done in connection with another crime, it is a felony, even in Georgia) and then Lamb comes up to Echols, who is sitting in his car, and talking calmly, and strikes him, screaming: "Shove it up you’re a–, you black b—–d!"

That is what is known as assault, and because it was accompanied by a racial slur, it magnifies the crime. (Whether or not one agrees that "hate crimes" should be on the books, nonetheless, this is not a pretty scene and it also is clear that Lamb is the instigator.)

Echols filed an assault charge against Lamb, while Lamb did the same thing against Echols. However, it is clear from Lamb’s document (which I have in my possession) that she has not told the truth, despite the fact that the document itself has a warning that making false statements is a felony. Nonetheless, Lamb was not charged with anything, and at this point, the case becomes bizarre, or, to put it in the vernacular, "You just cannot make up this stuff!"

At the magistrate’s hearing on Echols charges against Lamb in August, 2009, the magistrate told Echols that he would not hear the case at that time, and then he told Echols to wait. A few minutes later, the authorities arrested Echols on order of Arnt for "felony witness tampering" because of his conversations with McDonald.

For all of the high talk about "law and order," Arnt engineered the arrest so that Echols would not be able to testify at Craft’s upcoming trial, and that his material would not be permitted to be entered into evidence. Ironically, it was a real-live example of obstruction of justice, for Arnt used what essentially was an illegal arrest in order to subvert justice.

Fast forward to June of this year, a month after jurors acquitted Craft of all charges and the prosecutors and judges of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit (which tried Craft) were on the defensive. Just when things could not become more bizarre, they became more bizarre, as all four judges of the LMJC recused themselves from hearing the felony case against Echols. They gave no reason for their actions, but it was clear they wanted to distance themselves from anything having to do with Tonya Craft.

To make things more difficult for the prosecution, the two main witnesses, Jerry McDonald and his wife, Sherri, told prosecutors that they would not testify against Echols, and for good reason. As noted earlier, Jerry had said under oath during the trial that he had not had contact with Echols, and certainly had not talked to him for two hours, which essentially created a huge perjury trap for him if he were to testify against Echols.

In short, the prosecutors, led by District Attorney Buzz Franklin, have no case to present and would have to suborn perjury in order to take it to trial, yet they have refused to drop the charges. They have no witnesses and no judge, but they continue to run off the cliff.

Lest anyone believe that the story ends here, think again. Yesterday, the magistrate’s office at the Catoosa County Courthouse claimed that Magistrate Vic Wells already had dismissed the case. However, there was no hearing for which he had done it, and Wells had not informed anyone of his actions. Now, even in Georgia, one actually must have a hearing when charges are brought against someone else, but apparently the judges — protected by immunity — are permitted to play by their own rules and make up the law as they go along.

So, we have video evidence of an assault, which the authorities want to pretend did not happen. We have prosecutors suborning perjury and holding onto charges that not even the Georgia courts can swallow in the end. We have a case with no judges willing to hear it, and prosecutors who are stuck on stupid.

The legal system is not supposed to leave people in limbo, as it has done Eric Echols, who simply was doing his job, and doing it within the bounds of the law. While the felony charges are pending, he cannot renew his private investigator’s license, which threatens his livelihood. Furthermore, as a private citizen, he has been more honorable than the men wearing their black-robe costumes and enjoying the title of "Your Honor."

Should anyone wonder why I have no confidence in the courts to do what is right, despite all of the lofty rhetoric that comes from them, look no further than the false charges against Eric Echols. Remember that this can happen to anyone — except those employed by the system.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.

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