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April 26, 2024 17 mins

Vanessa Tyler has a conversation with Philadelphia's C.J. Rice, who was recently exonerated after serving 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
You know the old cliche justice is really just us?
Or how about this one? Everybody in prison says they're innocent,
but some really truly are. How long were you in
a Pennsylvania prison?

Speaker 2 (00:14):
Twelve years and three months, twelve years and three months?

Speaker 1 (00:18):
How old are you now and how old were you
when you went in?

Speaker 2 (00:22):
I went in there seventeen Right now I'm thirty.

Speaker 1 (00:25):
Another case of injustice now on Blackland, and now as
a brown person, you just feel so invisible where we're from.
Brothers and sisters. I welcome you to this joyful day.

Speaker 3 (00:39):
And we celebrate freedom. Where we are, I know someone's
heard something and where we're going.

Speaker 1 (00:47):
We the people means all the people.

Speaker 2 (00:49):
The Black Information Network presents Blackland with your host Vanessa Tyler.

Speaker 1 (00:56):
More than a dozen years on the inside for a
shooting and c J. Rice didn't even pull the trigger.
In fact, he wasn't there and was not physically able
to escape the scene of the crime if he was.
Now twelve years later, he is free, charges, overturned, exonerated.

Speaker 4 (01:13):
C J.

Speaker 1 (01:14):
Rice. Welcome to Blackland.

Speaker 2 (01:16):
Hey, what's going on?

Speaker 1 (01:18):
How long have you been out?

Speaker 3 (01:20):
All?

Speaker 2 (01:20):
Right? As of today about one hundred and almost four
months give or take almost four months, about one hundred
and fifty seven days.

Speaker 1 (01:33):
I find an interesting you counting it in days. Whow
have you adjusted.

Speaker 2 (01:37):
With certain things a little bit? But what other things?
I still get anxiety, like a lot of anxiety.

Speaker 1 (01:45):
When you say anxiety, do you get anxiety about being
in crowds? Or do you get anxiety that he would
be picked up again for doing absolutely nothing?

Speaker 2 (01:54):
Sometimes it could be bold, right, So like in a crowd,
I look around and be like, dang, how many people
even understand what's going on on the other side of
the wall right now? Right? And it's not really it's
not really like a like a bad anxiety, but it's
still like a like some kind of anxiousness, right, And

(02:16):
it's not really on a on a bad connotation or
denotation saying the word anxiety, But it's more so like
an uneasy feeling. You get what I'm saying. Yes, yeah,
that could be put to a few different situations, right,
because like even like going to go get something to eat,
simple as that, right, But you'll see, like the amount

(02:38):
of freedom that's out here, it's just it's blown on
my mind compared to in there. You know what I'm saying,
so it's still certain stuff that I'd be like hesitant
to do when I'm like, yo, I ain't got to
ask nobody to go do that, right m M. That's deep, right,
because that's like psychological for real, for real, that's not
even that's deep.

Speaker 1 (02:59):
In other words, you're free, but you feel like you're
not free.

Speaker 2 (03:03):
No, I'm free, and I know I'm free. I feel
like I'm free, but at certain points I catch myself
having to second guess if I could do something without asks.

Speaker 1 (03:12):
You know what I'm saying, Yes, what's day to day
like for you?

Speaker 2 (03:17):
Right now? I'm focused on studies. Right now, focused on studies.
I'm enrolled in school, going to school to be get
my parallegal certificate. I'm on that right now. So hopefully
I have some good news before the end of the
year that I'm certified paralegal. The interesting thing about the
paralegal and the lawyer relationship. The paralegal is actually the

(03:39):
one who could put in the substantial amount of groundwork
that's necessary to help somebody. Right, So, if the para
legal does a great job, somebody has a great chance
of beating the case. The para legal does not a
great job, those chances are slim or slimmer them down some.

(04:02):
So I think for every good lawyer they have to
have a great paral legal behind them, right, And for
everybody that's in a situation where they depending on somebody
else to fight for them because they don't know the
language of the law, they need a great pair of leader,
not just a good lawyer.

Speaker 1 (04:22):
You see what I'm saying, which, of course brings us
to your personal story. You didn't have either.

Speaker 2 (04:31):
Talk about things coming forward the right.

Speaker 1 (04:35):
Is that why you're so passionate about this?

Speaker 2 (04:38):
I think so. But it's also like so having to
study it as long as I did, and you know,
to really try to fight. In a sense, I developed
a knack for it. So I got no problem with
reading for an hour or two three hours writing for
you know, equal amount of time. That's I had to

(05:01):
do that, So that became habit. So it's fight. I
already developed a night for it. Why not get the
accolade for it so that I could be able to
do it? You know, professionally.

Speaker 1 (05:12):
How instrumental were you in your case? In your freedom?

Speaker 2 (05:15):
I mean, I don't know. Every night I went to
bed on that I tried my artists, right, So.

Speaker 1 (05:25):
You wrote material, wrote letters, You did the research.

Speaker 2 (05:28):
As much as I could, As much as I could
comprehend anything that I came upon, I didn't leave it
any If it was a pebble, forget a rock. If
it was a pebble, I was I was turning over
greens thing looking for a way out.

Speaker 1 (05:43):
You know your story because of CNN's Jake Tapper first
did an Atlantic magazine story on you in twenty twenty two.
It made the cover, then a CNN styled documentary on
your release. You were a cause celeb. What did all
that attention do.

Speaker 5 (06:00):
For you and to you?

Speaker 2 (06:02):
But for me, I think it allowed what I was
saying to be heard because somebody else was saying it,
even though they were saying it like the same way
that I was saying it for years on paper. But
you know, sometimes it's it's not about what you're saying.
It could be who's saying it, or you know so.

Speaker 1 (06:22):
And who was saying it. A respected white doctor, father
of a prominent newsman with an international TV news platform
in a legal case we've been following four years here
on the lead involving CJ.

Speaker 4 (06:36):
Rice, who is now a free man.

Speaker 1 (06:39):
CJ came to Jake Tapper's attention through his father, doctor
Theodore Tapper, who was CJ's pediatrician. CJ was seventeen at
the time of the liquor store shooting, where the finger
was wrongly pointed at him. Doctor Tapper testified at CJ's
trial the eyewitness who claimed seeing CJ run from the
scene of the krome. As doctor Tapper explains on CNN running,

(07:04):
CJ was recovering from being shot himself three times three
weeks before the liquor store incident, so run no way.
Doctor Tapper says he could barely walk.

Speaker 4 (07:16):
He had staples in his abdomen over approximately an eight
or nine inch surgical incision from his breastbone straight down
as far as you can go.

Speaker 1 (07:30):
But CJ was picked out of a lineup, even though
the witness first picked others, something the jury never heard.
But CJ says his public defender, a black woman, did
not even do the basics needed to free him. She
never gathered his cell phone records proving he was on
the west side of Philly when the crime took place.
On the south side bottom line, there was nothing there.

(07:51):
In Philadelphia's District attorney Larry Krasner. Now, looking back, there
was nothing concrete tying CJ to the case.

Speaker 5 (07:59):
If this case had occurred yesterday, it is very likely
that it wouldn't be so murky that we would have
phone records that would geolocate to exactly where mister Rice
was or pretty close to exactly where he was.

Speaker 1 (08:12):
Luckily, the person shot at the crime scene reportedly was
not seriously injured, but the damage was done, tearing into
a raggedy justice system again, another innocent black man swept
up in prison with the law throwing away the key.
We do so many of these stories. What percentage do

(08:34):
you think people black people are innocent inside?

Speaker 2 (08:43):
From my personal perspective, from what I've seen, especially in Pennsylvania,
the doc in Pennsylvania specifically, now across the country, you know,
we could use these Pennsylvania numbers, then you know they
may apply. But let's say it would take ten points,
right plus a minus ten points in Pennsylvania. I'm gonna

(09:04):
say a good forty percent.

Speaker 1 (09:06):
That's nearly half at least.

Speaker 2 (09:09):
Right, And that's for everybody that went to child and
for people that took dis Because you got people that's
taking deals for crimes that they didn't commit, but the
lawyer refusing to fight for him, or they feel like
the lawyer gonna, you know, sell them out, so they
go ahead and take complete the or they don't and
they wind up getting a life sentence or you know,

(09:31):
twenty five to fifty or you know the maximum sense
it's sticker, it's gut n for real, for real.

Speaker 1 (09:40):
We are speaking with CJ. Rice, a free man who
spent more than a dozen years behind bars for her
crime he did not and could not commit. We hear
a lot about court appointed attorneys, and but in your case,
it was really astonishingly bad. You were, you know, according
to the report, you on telling her what to do,

(10:02):
banging her what to do, telling your mother to tell
her what to do.

Speaker 2 (10:05):
That happens every day, right, It's just that people don't
understand that when they representing somebody that they really got
a person behind that paperwork. Right, It's literally a person
behind that paperwork. It's not just the doct number. It's
a son, it's a brother, it's an uncle, it's a

(10:26):
person behind that paperwork. People and the lawyers, they I
don't know, if they don't they don't always get that,
or I get it. You know they be swamps, but
it's like, got to do better, especially if you're saying
that and you professing that this is your profession.

Speaker 1 (10:41):
The public defender who represented CJ has since passed away,
but it took years, J says for him to get
competent help, including the backing of dream dot Org, an
organization fighting to reduce the prison industrial complex that sweeps
up the innocent like CJ right along with the guilty.

(11:02):
Dream dot Org. Janos Martin says CJ did not get
the justice that is the right of every American under
the Constitution.

Speaker 3 (11:11):
CJ. Rice is somebody who's had an incredibly difficult time
navigating the injustices of the criminal legal system from start
to finish, from being wrongly accused of inadequate assistance of
counsel to his difficulty in getting the true story of
what happened out there. And you know what, we when

(11:32):
we met several lawyers from the Reform Alliance who were
connected to CJ. Rice, we wanted to do what we
could to help. We helped spearhead a number of petitions
to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office to pay closer attention
to the injustices in CJ's case and try to get
his case dismissed. We're very fortunate, we're very excited that

(11:53):
after a long period of time, we got the result
we wanted and CJ is finally home. But we've also
try to do our best to help CJ on his return, because,
like so many other people coming home from prison, you know,
we don't have a good safety net in this country
to help people get back on their feet. So we've
been doing whatever we can to support CJ. And as
unjust as his case was, we also want to shine

(12:16):
a light on the fact that there are many people
still in our prisons who are innocent and trying to
fight to have their day in court the way CJ did.

Speaker 1 (12:25):
Dream dot Org wants it right, and so Dream tackles
many issues, talk about them absolutely.

Speaker 3 (12:32):
We're committed to closing prison doors and opening doors of
opportunity into the green economy. And what we mean by
that is many of the same communities, especially black and
brown communities, that are historically the most over policed and overincarcerated,
are also places that aren't exposed to all the economic
opportunities that come to other neighborhoods. So for us, we

(12:53):
really believe that in civil rights, in people's rights, and
the criminal justice system, but we also believe that we
need to bring good jobs of the future to those
same communities. So different parts of our program work with
different pieces of that, and you know, we think in
the long run, that's how we're going to make this
country better.

Speaker 1 (13:10):
I know, one of the issues you want us to
be aware of and stop is the construction of this
half a billion dollar mega prison in Kentucky.

Speaker 3 (13:20):
Talk about that absolutely. Uh, you know, we have. The
federal prison system is something that a lot of people
don't realize. It's the biggest prison system in the United States,
bigger than any state. They're about one hundred and thirty
prisons scattered across the country and we actually have finally
seen some success over the last few years in bringing
the prison federal prison population down. So now is absolutely

(13:44):
the wrong time to be spending five hundred million dollars
building a new federal prison in Kentucky, a place that already,
you know, uses prison as a tool of economic development.

Speaker 1 (13:56):
You can almost see who's already going to be filling
those prisons.

Speaker 4 (13:59):
Yeah.

Speaker 3 (13:59):
Absolutely, And one of the things that since it's a
federal prison, you know, it's people from cities all across
the United States, not just people from Kentucky. So one
of the things we did to testify against this prison is,
you know, bring a van of people from DC whose
loved ones are incarcerated in Kentucky. They have to drive
eight hours every time they want to see them.

Speaker 1 (14:18):
Dream dot Org is also making sure CJ has the
money he needs to get on his feet by starting
a goalfundme in the name of CJ. Rice. At last check,
the goalfundme for CJ Rice was still short of its goal.

Speaker 3 (14:32):
You know, I'm really excited to hear that CJ is
looking into becoming a paralegal or an attorney and really
does I think have a really bright future ahead of him.
But it's true that for so many people coming home
from prison, you're at square zero financially, you've got lost
time with your family, your community, ties of atrophied. And

(14:52):
one of the things that we want to do is
make sure that people who are directly impacted, formerly InCAR strated,
are able to get trained for jobs to actually pay
good wages for the future. So we've got a program
that helps train people up on tech jobs of the future.
We've got connections to scholarships for programs that will train
people up on jobs in the green economy, so the

(15:15):
solar and wind industry, which are incredibly fast growing industries.
I mean, these are jobs where you can get paid
well if you're trained right. And so we need to
get that training to formally incarcrate people and even currently
incarcerated people, because you know, if the state is going
to hold you in prison, you might as well get
trained up to that when you come home, you're ready
to go and can support yourself and your family.

Speaker 1 (15:36):
S CJ continues to inhale the fresh air of freedom.
He continues his studies. He is so close to being
a paralegal to help people like him, he can taste
it and replaces the bitter taste of a dozen years
locked up in the system.

Speaker 2 (15:52):
Everybody to help me. I appreciate it so much. I'm
trying to be normal, right, So I'm not you too,
but I'm doing good thing. I'm doing good. Once I
get this Paryer legal certificate, I should be straight after that. Straight.

Speaker 1 (16:07):
What's your message to the Philadelphia prison system that held
you and finally let you go?

Speaker 2 (16:13):
They gotta do better. They know they gotta do better.
That's the baseline, right, They gotta do better. We gotta
do better. They don't see it as us. Like I said,
it's not just a name, or it's not just a
docking number. It's a person. It's a person. The job
description is to met out justice, not to do anything

(16:35):
other than that. Right, So if that's the case, stick
to the job description and do the job to the
best of your abilities. Don't cut any corners. Do your job.

Speaker 1 (16:46):
Are you feeling now physically? How's your help?

Speaker 2 (16:50):
I'm pretty well. Go out. I'm gonna go out and run.
Tomorrow morning. I go out do my little running, a
little couple push ups, keep it, keep it together. Feeling good, celante,
oh CJ.

Speaker 1 (17:03):
Rice. Thank you so much for talking with us and
stay safe.

Speaker 2 (17:07):
Thank you so much, Miss Vanessa Taler. You take it easy,
Appreciate it.

Speaker 1 (17:11):
I'm Vanessa Tyler. Be sure to like and to subscribe
to black Land. Join me next time. We have a
new episode dropping every week.
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