An unfair sentence
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My name is Montusa K. T. Pace and I’m currently in my 19th year of incarceration at Nottoway Correctional Center in Burkeville, VA, serving several life sentences for robbery and homicide that I was unjustly convicted of.
I would appreciate your time in exploring what I believe to be an example of exceptional miscarriage of justice and severe sentencing in regards to my case, by the United States Justice System. In this letter, I will attempt to present all the facts, which can be verified in my trial transcript, and strong arguments that question if our criminal justice system functioned fairly and impartially during the stages of my trial.
Due to several flagrant abuses in the courtroom during my trial, I believe I was not provided a fair trial. For example, December 1-4, 1998, I was tried before a jury along with three men, two of which I’d never met prior to trial. My lawyer attempted to prove this by calling one of the men; however my lawyer was denied the right to cross-examine him and the statement he previously wrote, which was not read by him but by a detective for the prosecution. That individual’s statement wasn’t regarded as hearsay although he did not take the stand. My attorney as well as the attorneys for the co-defendants motioned for mistrials, citing the unfairness of a written statement being read where the party that wrote the statement did not take the stand, as well as a forced joint trial; however all motions were denied.
The prosecutor’s witness testified that he received a .38 caliber weapon and a rifle from me – guns which the judge expressed days before that there was to be no mention of because they had nothing to do with the trial and were not documented evidence—and a laser switch. While examining his witness, the prosecutor displayed a .38 caliber weapon in the presence of the jurors and a box that allegedly contained a laser switch. The prejudice was that the bullet removed from the victim’s head was consistent with a .38 caliber weapon. Additionally, a shotgun was said to be taken from the crime scene – another unfavorable bias.
With regard to the laser switch, the prosecutor’s witness testified, under oath and with certainty that there was a laser switch in the box, however, when cross-examined by my lawyer, both the witness and the prosecutor admitted that the box was empty. The deliberate misconduct by the prosecutor, the false testimony of the prosecutor’s witness, the admittance of hearsay evidence and the limited instructions from the judge ultimately denied me a fair trial.
I was convicted of one count of first degree murder in violation of VA code §18.2-32.1, three counts of robbery in violation of VA code §18.2-58, one count of burglary in violation of VA code §18.2-90 and five counts of use of firearm in the commission of a felony in violation of VA code §18.2-51 based on the testimony of one individual. No DNA or physical evidence was used to connect me to any crime. My sentencing range was between 32 years to 54 years with a midpoint of just under 44 years. I was sentenced to 3 life sentences plus 173 years. After I was convicted along with two others, the jury returned with the question of what’s the difference between “Burglary and robbery,” concerning the last individual, at which time my lawyer motioned to set aside all verdicts due to the incompetence of the jury. Again, the motion was denied. The judge also denied a motion to instruct the jurors that the state of Virginia no longer has parole for anyone convicted of a crime after 1995. I believe, and consistent with a statement made by the lawyer for one of the co-defendants, that the jury did not have the knowledge needed to provide fair judgement in this matter. Additionally, the four felonies of the prosecutor’s star witness were removed and he received an 18 month sentence.
After the conviction, my family hired another attorney to handle my appeal; however, he failed to properly handle the matter. On my own, I’ve attempted to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus only to have it denied due to law which limits the time in which to file a writ in Virginia to one year. After writing the Hampton Circuit Court to inquire about the status of my habeas, I was notified it had been denied and dismissed, which meant the time to submit a rebuttal had passed. Due to the log of incoming and outgoing legal mail in the mailroom at Keen Mountain Correctional Center, I’m able to confirm that I never received a dismissal from the Hampton Circuit Court. Which means the time bar is no fault of my own. This information was documented in my Habeas Corpus but I was still denied relief. In the case of Fishback v. Commonwealth, 260 VA. 104, 532 E.R. 2d 629 (2000) citing Muller v. Murray, 252 VA. 356, 478 S.E. 2d 542 (1996), a state conviction and sentence becomes final for purposes of retroactivity analysis when the availability of direct appeal to the state court has been denied and the time for filing a petition has been exhausted. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has called the holding in Fishback a “new rule of criminal procedure [that] is limited prospectively to those cases not yet filed as of June 2, 2000.” In light of the decision set forth in the Fishback case I can implement the right to be heard under these standards.
I hope that to the best of my ability, I’ve been able to articulate some of the injustices in my case and our criminal justice system. All of the facts presented can be verified in my trial transcript. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the details of my case further and any help you can provide in seeking an appeal to save my life.
Montusa K. T. Pace
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