2019 Cleveland Mock Trial Writing Competition Winning Essay Why Fred "Ahmed" Evans Should Have Been Found Not-Guilty Courtney White
Courtney White wrote the top-rated essay for this year's Cleveland Mock Trial Competition, earning her spot among the four students interning at the Cleveland Municipal Court this summer along with the top attorneys and witness. Courtney graduated this spring from the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at John Hay Campus. She will be attending Kent State University in the fall, where she will be majoring in Biology for pre-med, with a minor in psychology. Her essay prompt was "Research the actual historical shootout in Glenville of 1968 and write an essay about whether you believe Fred Ahmed Evans was guilty. Support your argument with facts asserted at trial."
The 1968 Glenville shootout is a case that is still mired in controversy. While African American activist, Fred "Ahmed" Evans, was found guilty of first degree murder by an all-white jury, the case for his innocence remains strong. This essay will argue that Fred Evans should not have been convicted of murder. In proving this argument, the racial atmosphere of Cleveland and the United States will be examined, as well as the facts used to prove Evans' guilt and innocent. Lastly, this essay will end by proving how the violation of Evans' 6th Amendment rights should have been enough to acquit him of all charges.
For several reasons, it is difficult to determine Fred "Ahmed" Evans' innocence or guilt in the Glenville shootout. The basic facts of the case are that on July 23, 1968 there was a shootout between the Cleveland Police Department and the Black Nationalists of New Libya in the Glenville neighborhood. Besides those details, everything else is contested. It has been stated repeatedly that it is unclear who fired the first shots. In the end, seven people in total died in the shootout: three officers, three black activists, and one civilian.
The controversy begins with the Cleveland police's known history of conflict with Evans. It is almost as if they were focusing on him. In February, of 1968, he was arrested for assaulting an officer, after the police spit on him. Two months later, "his storefront shop was closed without warning. The locks were changed and his possessions were laid out on the street." Still, no one really knows who caused the shootout, which begins to support the conclusion that Evans' conviction for murder was probably wrong because the evidence does not prove that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before discussing the topic of Evans's guilt or innocence, it is important to understand that tense local and national climate, as it relates to race at the time. In April of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and just two months later Robert F. Kennedy would fall victim to the same fate. This is important because it gives a better understanding of just how bad race relations were in Cleveland and the United States in 1968, when race riots happened all over the country. The Black Nationalist of New Libya started as a group that advocated for social and political justice for African Americans and armed self defense. Due to racial tensions going on during this time, the FBI started the COINTELPRO program, which had been established in 1956 to focus on "political radicals." According to pbs.org, one year after the Glenville riots, "focus and pressure now came onto the Black Panther Party." J. Edgar Hoover "declared, 'the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country'; he pledged that 1969 would be the last year of the Party's existence." This made it clear that the Black Panthers and other black nationalist groups were the targets of the United States Government. In Cleveland, on the day in question, the start of the shootout happened when two allies came to Fred Ahmed Evans with information that the FBI approached Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes with information that Evans was planning an uprising. Evans responded by saying he felt unsafe and decided to arm himself out of self-preservation, and because of this information the police were stationed outside of Evans' home.
There are aspects of the Evans case that suggest the validity of a guilty verdict. First, Evans openly admitted to arming himself with weaponry after hearing about the FBI reporting to Mayor Stokes. Next, an activist from the New Libya group testified that Evans called members to a meeting at his house with the intention of arming them for a shootout. In addition, three clerks from the neighborhood testified that Evans purchased weapons just prior to the shootout. Officer Zagore also testified that police arrived to gunfire on the scene. The prosecution argued that Evans and other members of the group had weapons and first aid to deliberately start a rebellion. In the end, there is persuasive evidence that Evans was prepared to engage in gunfire with police, and that he was the leader of the group. If he did not intend to use the weapons, why did he have them and then give them to others as well?
There are also aspects of the Evans case that suggest the validity of a not guilty verdict. First, during the shootout there was an eyewitness who stated that Evans repeatedly tried to bring the shootout to a halt by surrendering, but could not reach police. By making this statement, he was suggesting that it was the police who wanted the shootout to continue, and not Evans. Next, it is worth repeating that there is still no clear evidence as to who fired the first shots. One of the New Libya activists testified that the meeting Evans called that day was not about arming themselves to attack police, but a black history topic, and that no weapons were involved in that meeting. This challenges the previous statement that the purpose of the meeting was to arm themselves against the police. Furthermore, every witness that was called to the testify as to the time when Evans became armed and his intentions behind when he became armed, stated that they did not identify Evans as the person who shot first, nor did they support the argument that Evans had even shot anyone that evening. In his 2010 thesis from Cleveland State University, Michael Zadell wrote, "He was never accused of firing one shot. But he was held responsible for leading a group of mostly troubled teens and young adults to murder." How can you convict someone of murder if you cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they shot anyone? During the murder trial, the defense also argued that the violence was not planned, but spontaneous, and that at least officers were under the influence of alcohol. An autopsy provided proof that the officer was intoxicated at the time of the shooting.
Despite the conflicting evidence in the Glenville shootout, the fact that Evans' 6th Amendment rights were violated means that he should have been found not guilty. Throughout the process, Evans' 6th Amendment rights were violated. Evans repeatedly asked for an attorney, but the officers continued to interrogate him without an attorney present. His lawyer filed a motion for the trial to be held in a different location due to the publicity and racial issues during that time. His attorneys argued that Evans could not receive a fair trial. The biggest issue with the trial was that Evans' 6th Amendment rights were violated when he was not judged by a jury of his peers. Evans was convicted by an all-white jury of seven women and five men. When Evans' counsel requested a retrieval due to a non-diverse jury, the motion was dismissed. Later, it was also revealed that some jurors joked about Evans' guilt, but the motion was still dismissed. "In the aftermath, he faced charges of seven counts of first degree murder, two for each of the three policeman killed and one for the civilian who died." How can one person be charged on seven counts for three murders, when it was not proven that they even fired a gun? Due to this evidence Evans should be found not guilty: the jury was all-white during a time when racial tensions were high, his right to an attorney was not granted, and he didn't receive a fair trial.
1 http://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/general/id/6349/rec/17, page 18.
5 http://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/general/id/6349/rec/17, page 20.