Joseph Green Brown, 62, spent 13 years of his life fighting a 1973 conviction for the rape and murder of Earlene Treva Barksdale, a crime for which Florida sentenced him to death. In 1973 Brown was only 23 and a drifter. He had come to the attention of investigators for confessing to to sexually abusing a woman during the commission of a robbery at the Tampa airport the same day as the murder. When Barksdake’s husband passed a lie-detector test, suspicion shifted to Brown. On appeal Brown’s conviction was overturned in 1986 based on evidence that prosecutors had allowed a co-defendant to perjure himself. Prosecutors could have retried Brown, but in 1987 opted instead to release him.
A free man, Brown found God, changed his name to Shabaka, and, as a motivational speaker, spoke out against the death penalty, retelling many times the story of how his execution was stayed just 15 hours before it was scheduled. The Daily Mail quoted an interview in which Brown said, “I’m against killing, period, whether the violence is by individuals, the state, or armies in warfare. All life is sacred.”
In a turn of events that has shocked his friends and family, however, Brown was placed under arrest in North Carolina on September 14, 2012, for the first-degree murder of his wife of 20 years, Mamie Caldwell Brown, 71, whose body was discovered in their home on September 13, after police were called to check on her. Marcus Williams, a cousin of Mamie Brown, told reporters that the couple seemed happy and that her family didn’t worry about Brown’s past, adding, “He didn’t seem like a threat. He was upfront about everything. He was always smiling and trying to help people. He was a motivational speaker. He liked to warn people what could happen in the legal system.” Joyce Robbins, another relative of Mamie’s, said that she stared at Brown in the courtroom and that “He had a blank look. I don’t know that person. I’ve never seen him before.”
Brown will be held without bond until a preliminary hearing on September 26, 2012. It is hoped that prosecutors in North Carolina will handle Mamie Brown’s case more competently than Florida officials handled that of Barksdale thirty-nine years ago.