FLORIDA, September 12, 2013 — A seemingly innocent man rots in a Florida jail, the victim of a horribly broken justice system.
The case of Vernon Stanley Williams Jr. stinks of circumstantial, unproven and unsubstantiated prosecutorial testimony combined with a host of other injustices. The questionable characters include a judge with double standards, a prosecutor who mislead jurors and a defense lawyer who eventually admitted he dropped the ball and misrepresented the defendant and a co-defendant who was responsible for the crime but was let off the hook.
Yet despite the glaring problems, the defendant gets no relief from a system afraid of potential backlash for error.
The situation was further complicated when CNN inaccurately tied the case into terrorist activity only months after 9/11, then distorted the truth for the sake of sensationalism.
Vernon Stanley Williams Jr., a man with no criminal record and no prior drug use in his entire life, is now spending what may be his last 15 years on earth in prison for the non-violent act of unwitting possession of marijuana.
The defendant, Vernon Stanley Williams Jr., aka ‘Skip’ had two goals in life; one was to build a successful swimming pool installation company and the other was to fly.
Williams spent 30 years building his swimming pool company and was by all accounts successful. At the time of his purported crime, Williams had 53 pools under contract and while awaiting the income from those projects had a comfortable $20,000 in accessible cash in his bank.
Because diabetes prohibited Williams from obtaining a pilots license, he flew ultra-light aircraft and became a parachutist with hundreds of jumps to his credit. Multiple newspaper articles chronicled his ultra-light and sky diving aerobatics.
Eventually, Williams did achieve his 3rdc class medical certificate to pilot aircraft with diabetes. He then set out to gather as many flying hours as he could afford.
Williams flew to most every airport in Florida to gain hours but got bored with redundant airport-to-airport flying and made himself available to anyone who wished to fly with an actual destination. He also flew employees to various destinations for the experience as a bonus for exceptional work.
Brian Hagen was a sub-contractor Williams used on and off for about a decade. Hagen had flown with Williams and knew Williams was working to obtain a new “Type Rating,” or time in different aircraft and airspace.
Williams sought flying time in a complex, high performance Piper PA-28 and Hagen provided the opportunity. Hagen told Williams his Texas commercial driver license (CDL) was about to expire, and asked Williams to fly him to Cameron County Airport in Brownsville, Texas. Hagen offered to pay one half of the expense and rent the Piper for four days for the trip.
Williams arranged to skydive in Texas while Hagen took care of his business, and the pair would then fly back to Florida.
The day the pair was scheduled to depart, Hagen did not show up. Williams was angry at the waste of time and money, but Hagen claimed he got “tied up” with other business.
Williams is not instrument rated which means he must fly with high visibility and use landmarks for navigation. On the morning of the new departure, there was fog in the area which again delayed them from leaving.
Williams flew to Patterson LA. for fuel and filed a flight plan that took him outside the abnormally short airspace of the Continental United States or outside what is known as Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). A pilot must acknowledge a Defense Visual Flight Rule (DVFR) under this circumstance.
From LA, Williams flew to Brownsville, TX. However, because of the delays, Williams arrived too late to join his parachuting team. Hagen knew the area and recommended a nearby Econolodge.
The following day, Hagen went about renewing his CDL while Williams dithered about shopping and eating out. Williams went back to the hotel room and awaited Hagen’s return. A short time later, Hagen came to the room with his renewed license.
Hagen told Williams a few friends from Texas were stopping by. Instead of remaining in the room, Williams went to the lounge. Williams returned to the room as Hagen’s friends were leaving. Hagen then told Williams his girlfriend needed a ride home and asked to use William’s rental vehicle, a van Williams had selected to accommodate his flight gear and parachuting equipment.
Hagen did not return to the room until two a.m. During his outing, unknown to Williams, Hagen had used the van to pick up 65 lbs. of hermetically sealed marijuana.
The next day, the two drove to the airport. Hagen stashed the marijuana in the rear of the cargo hold without disclosing the contents to Williams. Williams kept his gear up front so he did not so much as glance at the rear cargo hold.
Williams again flew to Paterson Airport in LA and refueled. He again acknowledged the DVFR as he was flying a straight line from point A to B. However, DeWitter Radio only heard the last three letters –VFR-leaving off the “D”. VFR stands for Visual Flight Rule, not required if a pilot is not flying within the ADIZ. This has been the rule since WWII and became extremely heightened at the time of William’s flight-one month after the events of 9-11-2001.
This was the beginning of the destruction of the life of a then 57 year old successful Florida businessman with no criminal record and no history of drug use.
The state of Florida stepped in and beat Williams down with an invisible club and his attorney laid down for it.
Hagen walks a free man.
NEXT: Welcome to the Florida system of (in) justice and sub-standard legal representation.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist
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