revealnewsCh. 7: Making the best of #badpleadeals by @antoinegoldet
Back in his New Jersey prison cell, Rodney Roberts felt he had been double-crossed by the justice system. He decided to take matters into his own hands, filing a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2001, more than halfway through his seven-year sentence.
. “I had no faith in public defenders at that point,” Roberts says. “I had to be my own lawyer.” Using the prison library’s IBM typewriter, he copied the format of a model motion from a law textbook.
The sexual assault charge had been dropped at sentencing, Roberts wrote. That was why he had agreed to plead guilty to a kidnapping he did not commit. But at the parole hearing, police and presentencing reports were used to label him a sex offender.
. “They took what the allegation was, and that became my record,” he says.
Within a few days, his sentencing judge, Eugene Codey, denied the motion – even before an attorney had been assigned to it. The denial was the first in a long series of setbacks.
But Roberts soon understood that his best chance to survive the ordeal was to cling to any silver linings.
. “When you’re fighting so hard for your life, you can’t fight and be bitter at the same time,” he says. “Because you gonna be defeated by disappointment. … And I had to fight against that. I had to fight against feeling isolated and alone.”
Realizing he might have to serve the whole seven years, Roberts didn’t want to be forgotten in his neighborhood. He wrote letters to his Newark friends, including someone he had met at West Side High School: Lynda Anderson.
. “She replied to my letter, then she came to visit me – and we took it from there,” he says. “She gave me strength – her strength gave me strength.”
Roberts began spending most of his days at the law library. Inside the small, dark and drab room, he was granted his own wooden desk. He started studying for a paralegal degree from a distance-learning school and wrote pro se legal documents contesting his sex offender status.
Sitting on an office chair and surrounded by books, Roberts felt safe.
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