Saturday, October 03, 2009

Drug Sentence of Clay County Judges Son Called Into Question

Anniston Star

An Alabama drug legalization advocate is calling into question the 2008 drug possession sentence of a man who happens to be the son of a Clay County judge.

John Alexander Rochester, 23, of Ashland, was arrested March 1, 2008, in Ashland City Park. Rochester, who was 21 at the time, and a 19-year-old man were taken into custody, police said, after they were found to be in possession of large amounts of powdered and crack cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy pills and other drug paraphernalia.

The police report said Rochester claimed ownership of the drugs at the time of his arrest, telling the arresting officer the prices he charged for various quantities of each drug.

Rochester, the son of Clay County Circuit Judge John E. Rochester, was released on bond after serving two and a half weeks in jail.

Rochester’s case was sent to a grand jury hearing in March 2008. According to court documents, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Rochester with possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Rochester pleaded guilty to all three counts on April 17, 2008. Sentencing was overseen by retired Talladega County Circuit Judge Jerry L. Fielding.

Rochester was given a suspended five-year jail sentence, five years probation, a $5,600 fine and was ordered to complete a drug rehabilitation program in Mississippi.

Loretta Nall, a drug legalization advocate and 2006 Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Alabama, said she thinks Rochester was given a lighter sentence because his father is a judge.

“If you look at other cases in Clay County with drugs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the grand jury would come back with this,” she said. “I expect the judicial system to be fair.”

A criminal law expert, however, said the case likely was given to a grand jury and a judge from a neighboring county in an effort to ensure fairness.

“When you have someone prominent like this, you always have a question of whether or not this was given something special,” said Floyd Feeney, law professor at the University of California, Davis. “But once you get to sentencing, because there is a lot of transparency to that, the fact that you have a judge from another county (presiding) provides some assurance that this is being handled in an even-handed manner.”

Feeney said sentencing in drug offenses sometimes varies from case to case because of the intent behind sentencing.

“Sentencing has a number of different goals. One goal is to deter this individual from committing new drug offenses,” Feeney said. “Even though there are a lot of drugs involved here, what you’d like to do is to get this person into a successful, productive life.”

Nall said she was surprised by the sentence because “Judge Rochester has been notorious for harsh sentences.”

“I’ve seen so many people go to prison under him, and suddenly jail is not good enough for his son,” she said.

Reached by phone Friday, the younger Rochester declined to comment. Attempts to reach Judge Rochester were unsuccessful.

Contact Staff writer Whit McGee 256-235-3561
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Many thanks to the Anniston Star for covering this story. I have been trying for over a year to get them to cover what the Clay Times Journal would not.

A couple of things that need to be corrected in this article are that the indictment wasn't handed down in this case until March of 2009...not 2008 and the Grand Jury that returned the indictment was a Clay County Grand Jury and not a Talladega Grand jury, according to the case file that I have. And I must say that a Clay County Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich, so it is shocking that they reduced the charges Alex Rochester was facing before returning the indictment. Anyone else caught with that many drugs in the Ashland City Park, of all places, would have been recommended for the death penalty. I can just hear D.A. Freddy Thompson saying, "He was dealing drugs at the park where our children play. What if he had dropped some Extacy and some kid had picked it up and eaten it and then died?" Anyone but Rochester's kid would have received a very long prison sentence for this crime. Anyone else would have been called a kingpin and the trumpets would be blaring that the law got another drug dealer targeting kids at the park off the street.

I also find it utterly outrageous that this reporter had to go all the way to California to find and 'expert' on the criminal justice system in Alabama. Is there anyone who could possibly know less about how fucked up things are here than a law professor from completely across the country? Were there no law or criminal justice experts at the University of Alabama or Jacksonville State that he could have called? While the law professor is correct that the goal of sentencing is to deter a repeat offense and the hope is that the offender will begin to lead a successful, productive life, most people arrested in Alabama for that amount of drugs, who aren't related to a judge, are never offered the chance at a successful, productive life because they are sent to rot for decades in an Alabama prison. I challenge anyone reading this to find me one case in either Clay County or Talladega County Alabama where the accused was found with 1100 Extacy pills, 32 grams of cocaine, prescription drugs (usually folks caught with prescription drugs are charged for each pill they possess without a prescription) and a gallon bag of marijuana that was given a bond low enough to where they could get out. I'd also like to see a case where someone charged with trafficking was allowed to go to treatment. Traffickers aren't even eligible for drug court in Alabama.

I wish this article had gone into more detail about the amount of drugs Alex Rochester was caught with. Overall it's a start.

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17 comments:

sixstring said...

Judge Rochester had the DA take care of this at the grand jury level. It's not shocking, it happens all the time. The grand jury does pretty much what the DA wants. If the DA wants the ham sandwich indicted, he gets it.If the DA only wants a possession charge, he gets it. Once the charges are only possession, the penalty is greatly reduced. So, even though the police originally arrested and charged him with trafficking, those charges were ultimately reduced by the grand jury.
Once again, the rich and powerful play by different rules.

sixstring said...

After reading the article again, it seems to be trying to refute your claims. The Grand Jury returned the charges, a judge from another county presided over sentencing. Sounds fair, right? No mention of the quantity he had. No research into how many other people caught with similar amounts did not have their charges reduced to this degreee.
That's just the impression I got.

Loretta Nall said...

That's absolutely correct sixstring. The Anniston Star is run by Brandt Ayers who is a screaming liberal democrat. Rochester is also a democrat and you know how that shit goes. The only reason they did the story is because I told them I was making radio rounds yesterday and they didn't want to be caught with their britches down for not informing the public.

Another thing is the dates for the grand jury and the sentencing are a year off. We went over that on the phone. The reporter asked me why I was bringing this up now when it happened a year ago. I pointed out that the arrest happened a year ago but the grand jury indictments and sentence were not handed down until this year in March. I offered to send him the documents I had. He declined. And yet the wrong information made it into that article.

Luckily myself and others have been to the Anniston Star website for this story and posted exactly how much drugs were involved and what the actual dates are. I am going to press for a do over because this story was complete bullshit.

When I was talking to the reporter yesterday he asked me if this was personal. I told him that it is very personal in that Clay Co is my home and I have seen so many people go to jail for drugs under Rochester and also that it was personal because I always take offense when the justice system is subverted to cater to the rich and famous.

Then he said, "Well some other people that I asked about this (meaning the Rochester clan) said you had a vendetta against Rochester because he put your brother in jail. Is that true?"

I said, "yes it's true that he put my brother in prison but that is where my brother needed to be because he wouldn't stay off the road when he was drunk."

None of that made the cut s you can see.

The good thing about this story though is that the citizens of Clay county now know that Rochester's kid got off while their kids are rotting away in a prison cell and that will bring to Rochester a specific kind of justice.

When given lemons...make lemonade. This is far, far, far from over.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't another family member of yours just arrested? How many family members have been before Judge Rochester and how many times?

Also, do you not see the hypocrisy in a drug legalization advocate wanting to throw the book at this kid? Is it better with a state strapped for cash that a nonviolent offender go to prison just because his dad is a judge?

Also, another person was with him. What happened with his case?

Knight said...

This was a great story Loretta...I have to agree with you both on this one. It is strange how things go so great for some, and so wrong for others when the judicial branch is involved. I have seen some pretty hard sentences for light crimes, but when it is someone they know or like the sentence is too light. Sad because where is the justification in that? No one person is better than the other and it is time our judicial branch woke the hell up. Their kids are no better than ours, they too can sit in jail and pay their dues to society. How do they explain to a family that has just lost a child, mother, father, or sibling in a car wreck due to the light sentence of the son of a judge?

There is NO explanation...Great Work!! Loretta

Loretta Nall said...

Wasn't another family member of yours just arrested? How many family members have been before Judge Rochester and how many times?

You know that first question could be construed as a threat if I did happen to have a family member in jail right now. You should watch yourself. Now, let's see. I'm not aware of one of my family members being arrested recently. My two oldest brothers are famous for their past arrests. I've written about their criminal escapades on my blog many times. However, my oldest brother John died a little over a year ago...so it couldn't be him. I talked to my other brother R yesterday so, unless he was arrested after I talked to him, then it isn't R. He's dying of cirrhosis and isn't as lively as he once was. Got an email from my sister yesterday. She lives way up in North Alabama and she's never been arrested in her entire life so I doubt it's her. And I talked to mom yesterday, who has also never been arrested in her life so I know it isn't her. So, no, I am not aware of any of my family members being arrested recently.

And it's funny you should ask how many times my family members have been before Judge John E. Rochester. The reporter from the Anniston Star asked the same question the other day right after he talked to you and I'll answer you the same way I answered him. No. This isn't personal...no matter how much you would like it to be. Yes a member of my family has been sent to prison by Judge Rochester. And my family member deserved to be in prison because he refused to stay off the road when he was drunk, thereby endangering other people. Sometimes prison is the only option for the safety of others. It is personal in that I will not sit idly by and watch as a judge, who is notorious for sending nearly everyone who comes before him on drug charges to prison for a long time, subverts the entire justice system for his own son, who was arrested and should have been prosecuted by the feds, for one of the largest drug busts in Clay County history. Clay County is my home and I know a lot of good people who got caught with tiny amounts of drugs that are now serving time in prison because Judge Rochester sent them there. By God, if prison is good enough for the kids of hard working poor people who pay Judge Rochester's $150,000 a year salary then it is good enough for Judge Rochester's son.

Loretta Nall said...

Also, do you not see the hypocrisy in a drug legalization advocate wanting to throw the book at this kid? Is it better with a state strapped for cash that a nonviolent offender go to prison just because his dad is a judge?

Hmmm... now that's amusing. I'm a hypocrite for pointing out that the justice system myself and others pay for is granting special privileges to someone, because of who they are related to, while sending everyone else to prison because they aren't related to anyone special? I think you need to look up the definition of hypocrite.

The real hypocrisy here is that prison seems to be good enough for those of us who aren't related to a judge, but, somehow not good enough for the Judge's family. Do you think families who aren't related to a judge love their kids any less or that somehow prison is easier to take for regular people? You people really take the cake. It's hypocritical for Judge Rochester to throw the book at everyone else for drugs and then pull all the strings he has to get his son off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist....for DRUG TRAFFICKING. Most of the people Judge Rochester has sent to prison for drugs were not kingpin traffickers like young Alex Rochester. No, most of them were people who worked at places like Tyson for close to minimum wage, or at Bill's Dollar store or Wellborn making cabinets. They were in possession of amounts so small that they pale in comparison to what Alex Rochester was caught with.

Another hypocritical thing is how the 'justice system' closed in around Alex Rochester and guaranteed him a free ride. You know, as does everyone else reading this, that Judge Rochester sends everyone else to prison for drugs (or did before his son was caught). You know that had this been anyone else Freddy Thompson would have asked for bonds in the million dollar range and that Judge Simpson would have approved those bonds for the people least likely to be able to pay them. You know that DA Robert Rumsey, who was the 'prosecutor' in this case, a man who had more people on death row when he was the DA of Talladega Co.,would never have signed off on such a sweetheart deal for any regular person. And you know that Judge Jerry Fielding would never have approved the non-sentence that Alex Rochester got for anyone else. Had it been anyone else it would have been splashed across the front page of the Clay Times Journal and the Anniston Star a year ago. The Judge and prosecutor would have been trumpeting about what a horrible person who sold drugs in the park where the children play had been taken off the streets and how they made Ashland safe again. They would have been celebrating the MANDATORY MINIMUMS that they imposed on that horrible drug dealing monster. You notice how Alex was spared the mandatory minimums that would have been applied to anyone else. Yes...you know all of those things.

Loretta Nall said...

Is it better with a state strapped for cash that a nonviolent offender go to prison just because his dad is a judge?

You know I think that is my favorite question so far from you. I laugh every time I read it. That the Rochester clan would suddenly be worried about adding one more person to the horribly overcrowded prison system because it costs too much is Just. Too. Rich.

Judge Rochester certainly never gave a damn about saddling the state taxpayers with another $13,000 a year prison bill before his son was almost a prisoner. Why do you care now? Oh wait...I know the answer to that question. Truth is Alabama taxpayers are already paying $117,000,000 a year to house the non-violent drug offender population in Alabama prisons....so, hell, what's one more? If you or Judge Rochester were serious about the skyrocketing cost of housing non-violent drug offenders then you would have been doing things to avoid adding to that cost long before Alex was arrested. Oh, that's another example of hypocrisy, just so you know. You seem to be confused about what it is.

Also, another person was with him. What happened with his case?

I'm sure you already know the answer to that question. I've heard but been unable to confirm that the other person with Alex Rochester, Kyle Tyler Yates, got a deal similar to Alex's. Had he been caught with anyone else he would have been charged with 26 felony counts of being in possession of prescription drugs without a prescription. Each count carries up to a ten year sentence. Plus all the mandatory minimums that go along with being within three miles of a school, church, park, day care center and public housing facility. That didn't happen. He is walking around free last I heard.

sixstring said...

Anon,

I don't care how many of Loretta's family have been arrested or if she has a personal beef with Judge Rochester. The issue IS did the Judge's son get special treatment because of his father. It appears to me that he probably did. Do you have any statistics or evidence to show that similarly situated defendants (same amount of drugs ,etc.) got a similar deal? I don't want anyone to go to prison just because they are a judge's son and I don't want anyone to go to prison just because they are not.

Anonymous said...

Like the old saying goes even a journey of a thousand miles begins with 1 step. this was a good first step in seeing that some of the truth comes out and that this kid recieves no furthur special treatment.For the life of me I still dont know why the feds did not pick up the charges on the x and rock . the weight involved was more than enough to warrant a federal charge. and you can bet there are a lot of people doing fed time with no chance for parole for a lot less weight than this kid had.
As far as your critic's on this story go who cares. we all know how much time and effort you have put into making alabama a better place to live for all its citizens. keep shining the light were it needs it the most.. peace jim

Anonymous said...

possession of 28 grams or more of coke is by law, trafficking.13A-12-231(2)(a) DAs and judges just call their buddy DA or Judge in the next county, and tell them how they want the case to go and the neighbor is always glad to oblige b/c next time it will be some big-shot in his county that needs a break. Then they can claim some "neutral" DA or judge handled it.

kurtz said...

sounds to me like he snitched, just like they asked him to.

Loretta Nall said...

kurtz...Thanks for stopping by.

I've wondered about whether or not he snitched. On one hand yeah maybe he did.

On the other hand I have to think that surely his father, the judge, knows what happens to people involved in the drug trade who take that route.

If it were my kid and I knew all the other judges and DA's had my back and weren't going to send my him/her to jail anyway then I'd tell him/her to zip it.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I heard about your blog from a friend and I must say I enjoy it! :) I too, am sick and tired of rich kids getting preferential treatment with sentencing (usually just probation). Can you speak of any other cases of this in and around Alabama?

Loretta Nall said...

Senator Richard Shelby's son CLaude Shelby was detained at the Atlanta International Airport after he was found to be in possession of 13.8 grams of hash upon arrival from Heathrow in London. He was fined $500 by customs and turned over to local authorities who declined to press charges.

Had you or I been caught doing this it would have been considered international drug trafficking.

The son of US Rep. Spencer Bachus from Birmingham was caught with a large amount of marijuana a few years ago. He agreed to turn in his supplier and received probation.

Here is a link to other elected officials outside Alabama whose children were arrested for drugs and received preferential treatment.
http://timt.net/public_html.orig/shelby_drugs.php3/

Alabama Senator Jabo Waggoner's son was involved in a DUI hit and run in either Walker or Blunt county last year. No media ever covered the story.

Will said...

Let's say that the Alabama MSM actually start doing their job and cover the story -- a lot of folks start raising red flags, etc. What could happen? Could they take the Rochester kid back to court? God I hope so. You're one of my heroes, Loretta! Keep doing what you do.

Loretta Nall said...

Hey Will,

There is no way that Alex Rochester can be tried again. That would be double jeopardy.However, the feds could step in and try Alex Rochester on interstate drug trafficking charges. That should have happened to begin with. It would have happened to anyone else. Should the MSM start to cover this story about the best that we could hope for would be that the federal government would investigate how this non-sentence came about and Judge Rochester, Judge Fielding and former DA Robert Rumsey would lose political clout and the respect of the voters. I'd be happy with any of those outcomes. I'd also be very happy if the public began to get a better understanding of how drug prohibition has failed and what they can do to change it.