Democrats Exploit Old People!

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Help, I've fallen into democratic ballot counting hell and I can't get up!

-- Uncle Bob (unclb0b@aol.com), November 26, 2000

Answers

By ALAN CLENDENNING, Associated Press Writer

HOUMA, La. (AP) - Nineteen years ago, after a night of beers and rye whiskey, two brothers started hitchhiking in opposite directions.

Clyde Charles had eight miles to go on a two-lane road hugging a sluggish bayou to get to his house trailer in a fishing village surrounded by sugar cane fields.

His younger brother, Marlo, faced a 41-mile trip to his job in Morgan City, a gritty waterfront community that touts its leading industries with an annual "Shrimp and Petroleum Festival."

Marlo Charles would later say he got a ride quickly. But the only car that stopped for Clyde Charles was a sheriff's cruiser, its blue lights flashing.

Taken to a hospital emergency room in handcuffs, Clyde Charles was identified by a terrified white woman as the black man who just raped her.

It was 4:32 a.m. on March 12, 1981. Twenty-seven minutes after Clyde Charles had been picked up, authorities had their most important evidence.

He was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

It took almost two decades for Clyde Charles to show that the rape victim had been wrong about him. DNA tests proved it.

Who was the rapist then?

The attacker's DNA was compared with samples in a databank of felons. And there was a match, authorities said. Trial is set for December.

When Clyde Charles heads home in the 1982 Chrysler he bought for $100 after being freed from prison, his drive takes him down the same road where he was arrested and past the red brick jail where his brother, Marlo, is being held for lack of $1 million bond.

It's the closest the two brothers have been for a long time.

---

Clyde and Marlo Charles grew up in Terrebonne Parish on the Gulf of Mexico where no land is more than 12 feet above sea level.

Their father, Octave Charles, built the family's three-bedroom wooden house and an outhouse at the edge of Grand Caillou Bayou in Bobtown, a cluster of modest homes on stilts where almost everyone is related.

Clyde Charles was born at home on Nov. 19, 1953. His twin sister, Carolyn Ann, was born dead. His mother, Eunice, would eventually have six more children, including Marlo, born June 28, 1955.

Eunice Charles sorted shrimp at a cannery; her husband toiled in a sugar cane mill.

For Marlo and Clyde, growing up in the 1960s in Bobtown meant attending segregated schools and playing in the swamps.

They collected Spanish moss to sell for pillow stuffing and swung on vines that crept up the tupelo gum trees. They hunted raccoons and squirrels and "gigged" bullfrogs, all for the dinner table.

Every Sunday, the family prayed at the Morning Star Baptist Church, then attended a church potluck supper. Fried chicken, gumbo, jambalaya.

"We'd come to church early in the morning, and leave late at night," Clyde recalled.

Clyde dropped out of school in 9th grade to work at a shrimp cannery. By that time he had been through his first ordeal with the law. He says he was arrested at age 14 for statutory rape of a 17-year-old girl, but the charge was dropped.

Marlo finished 10th grade, but dropped out at age 17 after his girlfriend got pregnant. They married, but the relationship disintegrated when his job as a railroad track laborer kept him away from home for long periods.

Clyde was living with a woman in her twenties by the time he was 17. Though he never married Emma Bonvillain, he moved with her and her two young children into a new house trailer in Grand Caillou.

After a few years unloading shrimp and fishing for the cannery, they had a baby girl. Clyde bought his own shrimp boat for $6,000 and a new Pontiac Grand Prix.

"We had a good life," Bonvillain said.

---

Both brothers liked to drink, and it got them into trouble.

At 17, Clyde was stabbed during a drunken fight. Marlo was arrested four times for drunken driving.

On March 11, 1981, family members got together in Houma to tear down an aunt's house that had been damaged by fire. Afterward, Marlo and Clyde went out for drinks - beer for Clyde and Canadian whiskey for Marlo. After the bar closed, they walked together, they said, until parting ways on Grand Caillou Road.

Around that same time, 3 a.m., a 26-year-old nurse from Houma, who had recently separated from her husband and couldn't sleep, drove to Grand Caillou Road. She turned down a gravel side road toward a canal to watch tugboats.

"I needed time to be alone," she would later say. But at a railroad crossing, a tire blew out. She walked about a mile before coming upon a deserted commercial strip where she hoped to find a pay phone.

Then a man appeared.

"He circled around me ... and he made comments, like, you know, he knew I wasn't from down the bayou, that I was foxy and a classy chick," she recalled. "I told him, 'Well, don't get any idea because I have a gun in my purse,' hoping to scare him off. He said, 'Well, if you have a gun, you better use it now."

She screamed, and he grabbed her, dragging her by the hair to a clover field. When she refused to remove her clothes, he punched her in the face and pulled her jeans down. As he raped her, he choked her, bit her face and chest and beat her with a pipe.

As she prayed, she said later, he warned that if she didn't "stop bringing the Lord into it, he would smash my head in."

---

Sheriff's deputy Harold Domangue came upon the woman's disabled car about 3:50 a.m. Minutes later, he saw the woman in the road, on her hands and knees. She told him her attacker was black, but she was too hysterical to describe his clothing.

Domangue remembered a hitchhiker he'd seen. As he drove the woman to Terrebonne General Hospital, he radioed for deputies to look for him. At 4:05 a.m., Clyde Charles was picked up nine-tenths of a mile from the rape scene.

At the hospital, a detective used a wheelchair to bring the rape victim to within 10 feet of him. Everyone around him was white. Most wore police uniforms.

The woman took a long look, then identified Clyde Charles as the rapist.

Later, the state police crime laboratory found two light brown hairs on the shirt Clyde Charles had worn that night. They were similar to the victim's. Semen was collected from the victim, but no DNA technology existed at the time to make a match.

"Back then you didn't have DNA evidence, so you had to take the word of the victim and work with the evidence you had," said Detective Jerry Larpenter, who would later become sheriff.

Trial opened July 22, 1982. Defense lawyer Thomas Divens filed a motion naming Marlo Charles an alternate suspect and asking to treat him as a hostile witness. But Divens, now dead, barely developed his theory in court.

"Did you rape (her)?" Divens asked.

"No," Marlo Charles replied. That was all.

On the witness stand, the victim recounted the rape, then dropped a bombshell.

As her attacker asked her what she was doing on the road, he identified himself, she testified.

"I believe he told me his name," she said. "Clyde."

The woman had never included the detail in statements to police.

The jury deliberated five and a half hours before returning a guilty verdict.

The rape kit was placed in a refrigerated locker in the evidence room in the sheriff's office. It would sit there for 17 years.

---

The Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola is an 18,000-acre prison farm, bordered by pine forests and the Mississippi River. When Clyde Charles arrived in 1984, after spending two years in the parish jail, it held 5,000 of the state's worst offenders.

The prison was under the oversight of a federal judge after earning a reputation in the 1970s as the "bloodiest prison in the country."

Clyde Charles was put to work picking cotton and tending vegetables as his case was appealed. At each stage, his conviction was upheld.

Eventually, Charles became a trusty. He worked in the prison kitchen and later took jobs as a mechanic, gardener and woodworker. He learned to read and write. But his health suffered; he developed diabetes. Family members feared he would die in prison.

"It took quite a toll on his family," said Emma Bonvillain. "It destroyed them, and it destroyed all of us."

It was especially tough for his daughter, Nakia Bonvillain, who started visiting him in prison when she was 4.

Now 24, she says, "You can't understand the kind of stigma it is, having your daddy being a rapist."

---

Marlo Charles never visited Angola, his brother says, but sometimes sent money for cigarettes or sneakers.

For about a year, Marlo was in another Louisiana prison as a repeat drunken driving offender. Upon release, he moved to Hampton, Va., where two sisters lived. Marlo found work as a laborer for a masonry company and became friends with the owner's son, John Chisman Jr.

"He was famous for his seafood," said Chisman. "He would say, 'I'm going to cook my Louisiana gumbo.' If there were 15 guys he would say, 'I'm cooking for all you guys."'

Since 1990, Marlo Charles has been arrested at least 20 times. Most arrests were for drunkenness, but in 1992, he was convicted of breaking a girlfriend's arm. He pleaded guilty to felony maiming and was given a three-year suspended sentence.

In 1997, he was charged with rape and abduction after Hampton police, hearing screams from an apartment window, found him holding a knife to a woman's throat.

He told his current girlfried, Ernestine Tucker, that the woman made up the rape story. He said the woman had stolen money from him to buy crack cocaine, Tucker said. The charge was dropped after authorities could not locate the victim.

Around then, Marlo Charles began to settle down. After moving in with Tucker, he worked steadily and stayed at home during his time off. He cleared weeds from an empty lot and planted collard greens, cucumbers and okra.

His twins from an earlier relationship were in foster care, but he was trying to get custody by attending parenting classes.

Every night, he and Tucker read the Bible together.

---

In 1991, Clyde Charles learned from other prisoners about newly developed DNA tests. Over the next seven years, state courts denied his requests to compare his DNA to the semen sample stored in the Terrebonne evidence room.

"I didn't do it," Clyde Charles told a judge during a 1992 hearing. "And DNA testing would prove that."

Nothing happened until 1998, when Lois Hill, his sister, learned about the Innocence Project run by lawyer Barry Scheck. The Innocence Project, at Yeshiva University's Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City, helps people wrongly convicted win their freedom through DNA tests.

Scheck filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, and in May 1999, Terrebonne Parish authorities agreed to allow a DNA test.

Clyde Charles turned 46 in prison on Nov. 19, 1999. That day, he got a call from Scheck.

"Clyde," he said, "the test came back. You didn't do it."

Clyde Charles cried. When he told other inmates, they cried with him.

One month later, he walked out of Angola. In his pocket was a $10 check, a token the state gives every released inmate.

He filed suit against authorities, claiming he was wrongly imprisoned and that officials unfairly delayed DNA testing. He signed a contract for a television movie about his story.

But the family's joy would not last long.

Authorities started searching again for the rapist - and turned toward Marlo.

During his brother's trial, Marlo had testified that he had been near the crime scene. There was the court document naming him as an alternate suspect. It made sense to have the semen sample compared to his DNA, on file in Virginia, the first state to establish a DNA databank of felons.

A match was confirmed on April 6, according to Virginia authorities.

Marlo Charles made no effort to flee Virginia.

"He said he wouldn't run for something he didn't do," said Tucker, his girlfriend.

Marlo Charles was arrested on April 7 at his apartment.

When Terrebonne Parish Detective Darryl Stewart began questioning Marlo Charles in Hampton, he reminded him that his brother had spent almost 20 years trying to clear his name.

"I asked Mr. Marlo Charles if the reason he did not attempt to relocate (from Virginia) was that he wanted to come forward with this information of what he had done, so that his brother's innocence would be known and he could finally feel at peace," Stewart wrote. "His eyes began to tear and he shook his head yes."

---

Clyde Charles went to prison with more than 200 pounds on his 5-foot-7-inch frame. He came out bony, with gray streaks in his beard.

Now he has uncontrollable leg tremors he blames on his diabetes, but he smiles easily. Prison seems to have made him patient.

He has been unable to find steady work, so he builds and sells wooden lawn chairs and porch swings to make a few dollars.

The house trailer he bought with Emma Bonvillain - with whom he remains friends - was destroyed in 1992 by a tornado. She sold his shrimping boat years ago.

He wanted to save the $10 prison check as a souvenir, but needed the money to buy gas.

Once, he visited Marlo, who now denies he committed the rape. Trial is scheduled for Dec. 5 but will likely be delayed.

"I just told him, 'We're working with you to get you out of here,"' Clyde told his brother.

Driving through Bobtown, Clyde pointed to a large one-story brick house shaded by a canopy of stately elms.

"I could have had that," he says, "but I can't go get the job and work the 19 years I lost. I can't give my daughter the time with her father she lost."

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-- booboo (booboo@aol.com), November 26, 2000.


Very funny Bob!

This lady is a true patriot, volunteering her time to ensure that the democratic process is upheld for the benefit of her fellow Americans. Even though Dubya the dictator is trying to put an end to her efforts, she does not give up. A real trooper.

-- (very@good.person), November 26, 2000.


Booboo,

Is there a point to your poignancy? Is it a play on Bobtown?

-- (Paracelsus@Pb.Au), November 26, 2000.


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