Saturday, September 15, 2012

Charlotte, NC: CMPD brings suspect in wife’s death back to Charlotte

A Charlotte man who records appear to show served time on Florida’s Death Row nearly three decades ago was arrested in Charleston on Friday in the killing of his wife.

The arrest came after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police issued a murder warrant earlier Friday for Joseph Green Brown, 62, in the slaying Thursday night of Mamie Caldwell Brown, 71.

Officers from the Charleston Police Department arrested Brown without incident at a Holiday Inn Express, police said. Brown was returned late Friday to Charlotte, where he was interviewed by detectives and then taken to Mecklenburg jail. He remained in jail Saturday without bond.

Joseph Green Brown was sentenced to death after being convicted in 1974 by a Florida jury of raping and murdering Earlene Treva Barksdale. She was the owner of a clothing store and the wife of a well-known Tampa Bay-area attorney.

Brown was scheduled for execution Oct. 17, 1983, but a federal judge ordered a stay 15 hours before he was to be put to death. Records show the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in early 1986, saying the prosecution knowingly allowed false testimony from a leading witness.

Investigators say Brown is known to use several aliases, including Shabaka WaQlimi.

Florida criminal records list Brown with three birthdates, one of which matches the date on the Charlotte murder warrant.

Lawyers and anti-death penalty activists who knew him said he had moved to Charlotte years ago. They were shocked at the charge against him.

“I’m astonished that he’s a suspect,” said Colman McCarthy, a nationally known activist and former Washington Post columnist who now leads the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington. “I ardently hope that it is not true. It just breaks your heart.”

According to a 1999 story in the St. Petersburg Times, the prosecutor in the case remained convinced afterward that Brown had been responsible.

Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. senator from Connecticut, represented Brown on appeal as a volunteer attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

‘Apparent trauma’ to body

CMPD investigators say they found Mamie Brown’s body in her residence at the Oaks Apartments, in the 8000 block of Shadow Oaks Drive. That is off W.T. Harris Boulevard, between Old Statesville and West Sugar Creek roads.

Detectives say they received a call about 9 p.m. Thursday to check the residence. When officers arrived, they found Brown on the floor. She had suffered “apparent trauma,” according to police.

Officers went door to door in the community overnight, trying to find out whether anyone saw or heard anything near the apartment. Detectives roped off the area around Brown’s apartment during the night, scouring the inside of the residence and the exterior grounds for clues.

Several people who said they were relatives were on the scene but declined to speak with reporters.

The Oaks Apartments is a quiet, gated complex.

One neighbor, who declined to give his name, said the Browns were always on their balcony outside, smiling and waving to neighbors.

“She was the nicest lady in the neighborhood,” he said.

Neighbor Rob Lee lives a floor above the Browns’ apartment. He said he didn’t know them well, but that ever since he returned a missing purse to Mamie Brown, they were very friendly toward him.

“They were always nice and waved,” Lee said.

Lee said he first learned of Brown’s death when he was going downstairs to walk his dog and saw police at the Browns’ door.

Lee also said he heard a police officer saying they found a body in the bathtub.

“It’s just unfortunate that it happened here, and it’s unfortunate it happened at all,” he said.

LeMarcus Pride, who lives in the complex but said he didn’t know the Browns, said he found the news of the killing disturbing.

“They’re cold-blooded to kill a 71-year-old person,” Pride said. “They’ll kill anyone if they’ll kill a 71-year-old woman.”

Time in Washington

After being released from prison in Florida, Joseph Brown eventually moved to the Washington area.

“I knew Shabaka (Joseph Brown) very well, and he spoke to my classes many times,” said McCarthy, who also taught law at Georgetown and American universities. “Of course I’m astonished, and I’m just,” he paused, “astonished. But you know, I don’t know enough about the situation.”

He described Brown as a good man who was proud of his two daughters and who gave inspirational talks about death penalty opposition.

“I’ve always found him to be reliable, honest and very generous,” McCarthy said. “His talks were always factual, well-grounded, and he had a good sense of humor. He knew how to connect with an audience.”

McCarthy said that Brown had worked in a soup kitchen in Washington after his release from prison.

Brown then worked at the Father McKenna Center, which serves homeless men, but only one employee there remembered meeting him.

Brown later moved to Charlotte, McCarthy said. Neighbors said the Browns had been living at the Oaks for at least five years.

McCarthy said he didn’t know what Brown or his wife did for a living.

2000 assault case in Md.

Criminal records show Brown was charged with second-degree assault in 2000 in Maryland, was found guilty and received a suspended jail sentence. Records also show he was charged in South Carolina in 1990 with forgery, burglary and pointing a weapon, but he was not prosecuted.

“It doesn’t fit the Joseph Green Brown that I know,” said Tampa attorney Michael Shea, who defended Brown on the Florida murder charge and is convinced of his innocence there. The two appeared together on television shows and spoke at law schools.

“He was a very nice guy, very calm, collected,” Shea said. “… When he got out, you would never have known that he had been in prison.”

Shea said he heard from Brown every Christmas after his release from prison. Brown met his wife in Washington, he said, and the couple retired to North Carolina.

They had some financial problems, he said, and Brown once called to ask for part of the royalties from a book on the Florida case that Shea wrote.

Anyone with information about Mamie Brown’s death is asked to call detectives at 704-432-TIPS, or leave information with Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

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