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Family members have placed a sign at the corner of Pennsylvania and Maple avenues to call attention to the case of Charles “Chuckie” Sanders, who in 1994 was sen­tenced to 90 years on charges of aggravated rob­bery, assault and conspiracy.
 
PHOTO BY TAMMY SHRIVER of the TIMES-WEST VIRGINIAN
Message: ‘Free Chuckie Sanders’
Friends, family say 90-year sentence excessive punishment for drug
deal gone bad

JULY 4, 2009--BY MISTY POE TIMES WEST VIRGINIAN
  FAIRMONT — On a day many set aside to celebrate the nation’s independence, one local man wants to call attention to the case of a family member who lacks what Americans treasure— freedom.

     On a small plot of land that measures only 20 by 50 feet, John Edward White Sr. hopes to send out a big message. Earlier this week, White placed a yellow sign adorned with artificial flowers on the property that reads “Free Charles Sanders.” 

     White is referring to his cousin by marriage, Charles “Chuckie” Sanders, 45, who is currently serving a 90-year sentence at the Mt. Olive Correctional Complex in Fayette County.  On Thursday, White placed another sign made out of a sheet that
reads “Free Chuckie Sanders — No Justice No Peace.” 

     In November, White purchased the property at a tax sale for back taxes left unpaid by the previous owner listed on the deed as  M.J. Delligatti. Early this week, since the taxes were left unpaid, White took possession of the land, which abuts a Fairmont/Morgantown Housing Authority complex on the corner of Maple and Pennsylvania avenues.

     “Shame on Marion County for giving a man 100 years, and him watching cold-blooded killers come and go,” White said. “Chuckie got 100 years for a simple robbery, and nothing was even taken.”  In the fall of 1994, Sanders was convicted of aggravated robbery, assault in the attempt to commit a felony and conspiracy to commit a felony.  Friends and family members say that the sentence handed down by Judge Rodney Merrifield was excessive, considering the details of the crime. They say that the victim, Douglas Montgomery, was shot in the hand with his own weapon during a drug deal gone bad. In 2006, Montgomery died from a cause not related to Sanders’ case.

     A jury found Sanders guilty on all three charges on Oct. 4, 1994. He was sentenced June 19, 1995, on the three charges by Merrifield and received 75 years for aggravated robbery; 2-10 years for the assault charge; and 1-5 years for the conspiracy charge.  The sentences are to be served consecutively. This means that, in all, Sanders could spend up to 90 years in prison for his role in what happened on a spring morning in April 1994.  “I believe that the worst part of this cruel and unusual punishment that has been bestowed upon Mr. Sanders is to observe a myriad of coldblooded, convicted murderers come into the prison system, spend less than 10 years and then be released into society — many from our home county,” White said. “What a terrible injustice!”

     What happened that morning in 1994 is in dispute.  In his testimony from the original trial in 1994, Montgomery said that he was walking home from the Varsity Club after 3 a.m. that
morning when he was accosted by two men who jumped out of a car at the corner of Locust Avenue and Bryant Street. He said one man gabbed him from behind around the neck, while the other, whom he identified as Sanders from a series of mug shots, pointed a gun at him and said, “Give me your money.”  Montgomery said he only had a quarter in his pocket at the time. The victim said that he struggled with Sanders; they both fell to the ground, and then he was shot during the struggle. 

     Sanders’ story is similar, but the circumstances are much different.  According to court testimony, Sanders says he did drugs with a friend and wanted to purchase more drugs. He suggested that they pawn a 19-inch television he had for cash. After they picked up the television set, Sanders and his friend drove to a Locust Avenue parking lot where they met Montgomery. Once the hatchback of the vehicle was open, Sanders said things somehow turned and Montgomery pulled a gun out.  “He walked up to the car, and he reached into the front of his pants and started to pull a gun out,” Sanders said during a 1996 hearing in front of Judge Merrifield. “I grabbed (hold) of the gun. The gun fired and a struggle ensued. We fell to the ground and we fought over the gun.”  Sanders said that his friend took the gun and they ran away.  Montgomery was shot in the hand and treated at Fairmont General Hospital. 

     Sanders was originally represented by court-appointed attorney Francis Whiteman, Stephen Fitz under appeal and D. Conrad Gall for a habeas corpus petition. The state Supreme Court refused to hear Sanders’ appeal in 1998, and Judge David Janes denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in April 2004, citing a failure to prove that Sanders’ constitutional rights had been violated in the 10 years since he had been arrested for the crime.  Family members have said that Sanders will not be eligible for parole until 2036 at the age of 72.  “I would like to thank the community of Fairmont for the support that I have received regarding the unconstitutional fairness of my case,” Sanders said in a statement released by family member Morris Morrison. “I accept responsibility for the crime committed over 15 years ago.  “I do not want to argue the details of guilt or innocence,” he explained. “However, the sentence that I received then requires me to serve approximately 20 more years before I am eligible to see the parole board. I find this sentence to be excessive when murderers have an opportunity to see the parole board after 15 years.”

  E-mail Misty Poe at mpoe@timeswv.com.


Good morning!

The pursuit of happiness and 90 years

JULY 6, 2009--BY CHARLOTTE MEADE, CITIZEN JOURNALIST, TIMES WEST VIRGINIAN
  FAIRMONT — Independence Day ... the Declaration of Independence ... a statement of wrongs needing correction ... of rights demanding respect ... of intentions of self-protection ... of an endowment by our Creator of inalienable rights, that can neither be taken away nor given away, that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


I have heard quite a few seemingly happy and well-adjusted people express their gratitude for living in a nation that rewards them so well financially for doing the thing(s) they love — things they would be willing to pay for the opportunity to do. These are usually people who, with the help and affirmation of others, have discerned and honed their gifts, who are working within their creative purpose, and are personally experiencing the awe of living in that special moment when preparation and opportunity meet and the gift begins the journey of making room for them. Our fore-sighted forefathers were intentional in their declaration of rights, but they were not equally deliberate in the application of those rights to all segments of our nation’s population. It became incumbent upon some segments to become more assertive on their own behalf than others — in obtaining those inalienable rights.


I was driving down Fairmont’s Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday and noticed a white sheet waving in the breeze with the words “Free Chucky Sanders” on it. On Saturday, I read a very informative article in the Times West Virginian, written by Misty Poe, with helpful background information from John Edward White Sr. I am still in

shock — 90 years? I had not realized that Chucky Sanders, having served 15 years of his sentence on an aggravated robbery, assault and conspiracy charge, had been sentenced to 90 years.


Thank you, Eddie, for focusing our community’s attention on the many circuitous roads justice sometimes takes. No wonder so many of our young people are enrolled in Fairmont State University’s criminal justice program these days.

 

I went to Dunbar School with Chucky’s mother, Gwendolyn Moore (Sanders), now deceased, and with Gwen’s sister Dorothy. I am sure Gwen would have wanted Chucky to learn from his mistakes and to again live a drug-free life, but 90 years?


After my return to Fairmont, I found Gwen to be the same fun-loving person with a contagious sense of humor. She seemed to have been made stronger by the lemonade she was making from the proverbial lemons life was throwing her way. Gwen loved being out among the people, and through her own efforts,those of her family and friends, and of the Marion County Transit drivers, she was a busy lady! Her wheelchair and leg amputation were not her complaint — just daily challenges. She loved kids — her kids, her grandkids

and everybody else’s kids. She spread joy!

 

After reading Misty Poe’s article, I felt a kind of sadness for what I had not known. If Gwen were still with us,physically, whether it be Chucky, my kids, your kids or just plain our kids — I believe she would have a sign on the front and back of a motorized wheelchair, traveling the hallways where people are trained and employed to seek justice, asking where the justice is in 90 years! I bore no responsibility when I did not know, but now I owe it to my sense of self to, as Spike Lee said through the voice of Ossie Davis, “Do the right thing!”


That trip down Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday and Misty’s article on Saturday have left me with an Independence Day assignment: To become an informed advocate for the continuation of the recognition of certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ninety years?

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