MONTGOMERY, Ala. – During James Fisher’s first meal outside of a cell in nearly 30 years, a gospel singer from Georgia introduced herself, sang out a song of redemption, and handed him a $100 bill. Mr. Fisher asked his lawyer, Perry Hudson, for a Walkman, a hot item back when he was last free, but received a portable MP3 player instead. Mr. Hudson explained that this was better.
On Dec. 12, 1982, a white man named Terry Neal was stabbed to death in his Olahoma City apartment with the broken neck of a wine bottle. James Fisher, then 20, black, and a petty criminal, was accused of the crime by a juvenile prostitute, and his cycle of criminally-ineffective legal representation began.
Fisher’s first lawyer, E. Melvin Porter, a civil rights advocate and the first African-American elected to the Oklahoma State Senate, later said that at the time he considered homosexuals to be “among the worst people in the world,” and purposefully conducted a shoddy defense. Nineteen years later, after a federal appeals court awarded Fisher a second trial, his lawyer was Johnny Albert, who later admitted that at the time of the trial, he was drinking heavily, abusing cocaine and neglecting cases.
Last month with the help of the Equal Justice Initiative, Fisher, now 46, was released from death row and a largely solitary prison existence. In addition to pleading guilty to first-degree murder, Fisher agreed to get the hell out of Oklahoma forever.
As Oklahoma receded in the rear-view mirror, James Fisher had this thought: “The past is over with.”
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