Black Bodies of Children Are Not Safe In Alabama’s Judicial System


October 23, 2020

A Short Introduction to The GADSDEN 6

Gadsden, Alabama. “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Over 32 years have passed since the early morning hours on March 24, 1988, when six Black youth from Huntsville, Alabama.,Fred Brown, Archie Hamlet, Roland Martin, Melvin Ray, Curtis Richardson and Steve Stewart, were arrested for a department store burglary in Gadsden, Alabama. The consequences of those arrests, the magnitude of the injustice, and what corrupt juvenile authorities did that day are only just now being discovered and understood:

Juvenile proceedings where no attorneys or parents are present. Motions filed and ruled on where no one was present except the judge and prosecutor. Transfers to adult court without hearings and, in the end, over 20 felony convictions, 170+ years combined sentences, over 30 combined years served, and the subsequent use of these illegal felony charges as sentence enhancers, resulting in over 70+ years of extra time served.

The wheels of injustice began to spin swiftly the moment the GADSDEN 6 were arrested and taken to the police precinct. Once there, detectives proceeded to interrogate us for several hours. At no point during the interrogations were our parents contacted, nor were we afforded attorneys. When the interrogations ended, the detectives charged us with over 30 combined counts of burglary and theft.

The chicanery did not end with the interrogations.

Later that same morning, all six of us were taken before juvenile court judge Robert E. Lewis, for what was supposed to be an initial appearance hearing. At the initial appearance hearing, we were expecting: a) inquiry into what we were being charged with, b) to be informed of our rights to an attorney and, c) to be advised that our parents would be notified and allowed to be present at all future hearings. But, this is not what occurred at all . . .

Instead, the supposed initial appearance hearing quickly turned into a detention hearing, where it was to be determined whether probable cause existed for any or all 30+ charges. Proceeding in this manner guaranteed that, by the time our families or attorneys got involved, the decision justifying our detention would already be made.

There was, however, a major problem with this impromptu “detention hearing”. There was no legal counsel present on our behalf to examine the probably cause claim and evidence rendered. To remedy this problem, certified court records show that the adults in the courtroom, the judge, police detectives, and prosecutor, came up with their own unique solution: someone “stipulated” to probable cause — meaning that they (the police and prosecutor) conceded the children’s guilt — to ALL 30 charges on behalf of all six children. The act of stipulating on our behalf is illegal, and beyond dispute.

On April 6, two weeks after the stipulation, the same certified court records show that Judge Lewis decided to appoint attorneys. By then, cause for our continued confinement had already been decided. We were simply awaiting our ultimate fate.

April 27, 1988, 34 days later. . .

On April 27, 1988, the matter of the GADSDEN 6 would come to a close in juvenile court. The prosecutor filed a motion to transfer all six of us to adult court, and Judge Robert E. Lewis granted it that same day. Again, though, no attorneys or parents were present when the transfer motion was granted. In fact, no one was even notified that the motion to transfer was filed and had been granted until the next day.


Once in adult court, the GADSDEN 6 all received guilty pleas. We were told we could either plead guilty and be sentenced to 10 years, split to time served, or we could risk being taken to trial on each count one at a time, where we could end up with life sentences. Weighing these options, we were all forced to plead guilty. In total, we received approximately 20 adult convictions, over 170 total years, and have suffered a lifetime of collateral consequences as a result of these felony convictions. What we are learning now, however, is that the GADSDEN 6 were never legally transferred to adult court as authorized by law; that jurisdiction over our cases remained in juvenile court; and that all of our adult felony convictions are illegal and void.

2020. Thirty-two years later

The Etowah County juvenile records depict a picture fraught with unethical and criminal misconduct. We now know that the process whereby the “detention hearing” was instituted is unprecedented; we also know that the probable cause “stipulation” entered on that fateful first day in court was illegal and amounts to judicial and prosecutorial misconduct; and, we now know that the supposed “transfer order” to adult court, issued without a hearing, was not done in a manner authorized by Alabama law. It was all a fraud. All a sham. All amounting to an untenable miscarriage of justice.


Efforts to undo this injustice have proven difficult. In May 2015, Etowah County Judge and former prosecutor William B. Ogletree, denied a petition for relief seeking to undo and correct Judge Lewis’s order. In denying justice, Judge Ogletree put forth a ruling that basically attempts to rewrite Alabama law.

Judge Ogletree cited Title 12-15-203 (i), Code of Ala. 1975, for the proposition that he was refusing to reverse these illegal convictions on the ground that one member of the Gadsden 6 had been “previously certified” in another juvenile case.

Yet, this statute clearly states that a child must have an adult “conviction or adjudication as a youthful offender” before they can be transferred to adult court without hearings, without attorneys, and without due process. Not a single one of the Gadsden 6 had ever been convicted or adjudicated as a youthful offender in 1988. In fact, at least four (4) members of the GADSDEN 6 had not even been “previously certified” on April 27, 1988, yet they too were transferred without hearings, without attorneys, and without notice to their parents. These irrefutable facts prove that the officials in Etowah County know that what they did was wrong and that they have no intentions of providing justice to the GADSDEN 6

Contact Us:
Twitter: @6Gasdsden
Fb: JusticefortheGadsden6

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