News From Norma Jean's Defense Committee

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The following info comes from Norma Jean's attorney Diana Samuelson, in a telephone interview July 11. I will update it with the info packet she is sending me snail-mail.

Norma Jean was turned down for release-date (which is usually set 5 years or so in the future of the time it is given) by the California Women's Authority parole board in 1990, 1992, and 1994. Theoretically, she should have another parole hearing before the end of this year but Diana does not expect it until at least next spring. Diana does not believe the parole board will set a release date then.

The good news is that Federal Court (in Sacramento) has accepted a habeas corpus hearing on Norma Jean, date is not quite certain at present. The basis is that the California courts--original trial court and all appeals which were denied-- refused to consider new evidence that was used to win acquittal for Hooty in his second trial. According to Diana, the first trial was incompetently conducted by local lawyers from racist Yreka, who used a "diminished capacity" defense (i.e they were all drunk, alas) and who allowed the robbery charge to stand unchallenged (making the officer's death a felony murder, accomplice felony murder for Norma Jean). I am not able to understand how an alleged shoplifting can be charged and stand as robbery (a crime of violence).

The IWC piece ("Saga") was put together mostly by Nilak Butler. Diana says she reviewed it and the facts as stated there are essentially accurate. One cop car chased some Indians away from al all-night convenience store, and every cop and sheriff in the vicinity converged on the Grandmother's cabin and shot up the night. Hooty's aquittal on grounds of self defense occurred with a careful presentation of evidence (under heavy opposition challenge) of what actually happened that night. Of course by the time Hooty shot officer Ott, Norma Jean was lying in the sagebrush bleeding from being shot in the back as she and Hooty ran for cover. The bullet is still in her body. Her conviction rests on the accomplice part of California law, and depends critically on the racist gossip which was proven false in Hooty's trial.

The original trial lawyers neither investigated nor challenged the conspiracy charges, which were based on the gossip of some white racist neighbors to an Indian party, who claimed Norma Jean and Hooty and others were outside talkiing about shooting up some police. This was proven false at Hooty's trial.

A Black jury foreman and about 6 other jurors from Hooty's 1990 trial have become supporters of Norma Jean, believing that since they heard the evidence, she should be found not guilty as they found her brother, the one who actually shot officer Ott, not guilty. A declaration from these trial jurors about the effects of the new evidence, evidence not heard by the Placer County jury that convicted Hooty and Norma Jean in 1979, is part of the evidence the defense hopes to present at Federal court.

The California Attorney General's office has challenged this declaration; it appears certain that none of these trial jurors can be called as witnesses in federal court. The grounds of the challenge is that jury deliberations are supposed to be confidential. The State of California has made other motions to oppose Norma Jean's attempts to get a hearing in federal court. But it does appear there will be a hearing, although what will be allowed to be presented there is not certain now.

At the original trial, the local lawyers were incompetent or too in with the local police and sheiffs to present a valid defense. Instead, their defense was "diminished capacity", that these were just a bunch of drunken Indians, alas. They accepted without challenge the prosecutorial contention that a piece of cardboard from a cartridge box, found in the hills near the cabin was the result of what was charged as robbery of the convenience store--Sports and Spirits, an all night gun and booze store--where the group had actually purchased cigarettes, as described on the "Saga" page. The cops got involved there because of an argument about short-changing, no contention of shoplifting (which isn't robbery anyway) was made until the trial, when it served to allegedly show a conspiracy to lure the officers out to the cabin or something, an entirely senseless prosecutorial theory, but one which a racist Yreka jury liked just fine. An ex-cop was the defense investigator, who of course did not interview any of the two dozen police who were on the scene. Presently, Yreka has made a hero of officer Ott (who in fact had been drinking with some other officers that night). They hold a car race honoring him every 4th of July, with speeches, etc., he is the town hero, killed by "savages."

Because Hooty was slated for execution, there was mandatory appeal and good lawyers got involved. They spent 4 years of investigation and legal research preparing his appeal and change of venue. Of course this material is useful for Norma Jean's case too, but her case has never received re-hearing in California courts, appeals were all immediately denied. Diana says that while the appellate briefs they prepared for Hooty were hundreds of pages of citational argument and exhibits, the appeal brief for Norma Jean was about 15 pages and did not challenge anything about the trial, only a couple of minor technicalities. But this slipshod, hasty appeal closed the door for Norma Jean on California courts of appeal. The parole board appears totally hostile. Federal court now appears to be her only chance.

Norma Jean's defense committee consists of a small number of women and the support of her brother Hooty. Hooty will be entering San Francisco State College in September, when he may be able to get an EMAIL account there. (I told this to the lawyer, to tell Hooty. She doesn't know anything about EMAIL, InterNet, WWW; completely computer illiterate except for word-processing.)

Hooty has learned a lot about computer graphics and will major in computer animations. Norma Jean is also artistically talented, but her opportunities in Chowchilla Women's Prison are much less. She must pay for all materials and supplies at prison markup rates. There is a crafts group, where if she can afford it, she can do art and beadwork. Supporters who send her money orders can help a lot. Norma Jean has also taken prison courses and has become a certified auto mechanic. She has become very interested in cars and is said to be an excellent auto mechanic. She has several job offers if she should be released.

Diana can bring "a package" (limit 30 pounds, approved items only) only 4 times a year. About $200 is spent quarterly to shop for the items--usually clothing-- Norma Jean says she needs. The defense committee raises money for this.

Though Norma Jean hasn't had a drink in 17 years, the parole board now says she must take alcohol counseling. Her mechanic's certification, and consideration for release depends on this, they say. Two volunteer Indian women--one a nurse, both certified substance-abuse counselors who take a native spiritual approach to substance abuse counseling--are her counselors. They must travel several hours to reach the prison. The defense committee tries to supply gas money to these counselors. Norma Jean also has to take basic literacy courses, which requires purchase of some texts (from the prison).

In 1990, after Hooty's trial (which received a lot of California publicity), there was a larger and more active support group for Norma Jean. A letter-writing and petition campaign were carried out, that resulted in more than 3,000 signatures supporting her from all over the world and about 300 letters of support for her release. Had no effewct (probably not read) on the parole board. Norma Jean's attorneys would like to collect more letters and petitions. Diana feels these have little effect on the parole board, but may be of some use in federal court. I will be posting the petition form and some sample letters here, but you can surely think of good letters to write. They should be sent to the Defense Committee address (which is Diana Samuelson's law office, that serves as a contact and communications center for all defense committee efforts).

Letters to Norma Jean would be appreciated by her. Don't send books or any other objects, but you can enclose a money order. She receives very few visitors. Hooty is not allowed to (ex-con) and her mother lives far away and can seldom afford to visit. Chowchilla prison is in a hot, unpleasant, desolate desert region. A new women's prison is going up just across the street from it. There is a massive increase in California convictions and long-term sentences for women and men, especially people of color.This increased population means decreasing services to prisoners, especially medical services, but every other kind as well. As with the required counseling, educational, clothing or craft items, prisoners must themselves pay for whatever they need. The defense committee raises money for this.

The Defense Committee does not raise money for the lawyers. The lawyers are satisfied with the fees they receive from the court for their representation. Diana represented Hooty for his successful appeals and new trial, she has been in it for a long time. A federal defense specialist, who had also been involved though not officially with Hooty's case, is taking the lead role in the federal habeas corpus proceedings at Sacramento. He is paid through the federal court. The defense committee's fundraising efforts are for Norma Jean, and small costs for reproduction and mailing of literature about her case.

At the time of Hooty's acquittal in 1990, there was quite a lot of publicity about his case in the San Francisco area. There was even some press interest in Norma Jean's case. However, although several good articles have been written in California newspapers, there has been no national attention to her case, and the interest of 1990 has died. Liberal and women's magazines such as Ms Magazine and Mother Jones which often cover situations like Norma Jean's case have never shown any interest. A reporter once expressed interest in writing it up for the New York Times Sunday Magazine but did not follow through. A stringer from TV's "60 Minutes" show was taken for several long visits with Norma Jean and given much info. He carried a show idea to New York, but was told the case was too complicated for 60 Minutes to cover. WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link, pay-for-subscription) mostly liberal yuppie-computer buffs or modestly rich ex-radicals of the '60's probably has no info on it. Women's groups generally have not supported Norma Jean.

Norma Jean's defense committee has made a videotape about her case, which is available (Diana will send me the how to order info) for about $15. It was described as very good for amateur work. A more professional person was making a videotape about Hooty's case, which also is about Norma Jean that was supposed to be finished this summer. He has not been heard from lately.

Norma Jean's attorneys feel it would be very helpful if a large number of her supporters could attend the federal hearing in Sacramento when this is scheduled (presently date is uncertain). It is about a 2-hour drive from the Bay area. There will be a press conference. It would be helpful if there were a drum group, which Hooty will probably be able to organize. It would be helpful if some press was at the press conference. But it will be very, very helpful if that courtroom could be full each day of what will probably only be an hour or two hearing if the California Attorney General has his way to supress all sorts of things the defense wants to present in evidence.

I will update this page when I receive their snail-mail packet.

Meanwhile: letters for Norma Jean herself--her address is on the main page. Why not enclose a money order even if it must be small. Letters of support and petitions to the Law office address on the main page. Why not send some money, too, even a small amount. Get the videotape (as soon as I find out how) and show it to your college Indian group. Show it in your Indian Studies class. Duplicate their literature, using college student facilities. Link this page to those college Indian group pages. Download the pages and graphics and post it yourselves as a mirror site. Try to get some kind of publicity for this case on a national level. If you have more of those Ivy college powwows, why not do the traditional blanket dance (people throw down money and jewelry or beadwork that is later auctioned)? Do it at some powwows this summer if you can, talk to the announcer about it, take some printouts of this info, dedicate a dance to her.

In 1990, Nilak (who certainly knows) wrote: "The struggle to obtain Norma Jean's freedom will take the prayers, love and committment of the people to be successful. Like her brother Hooty's case, it will involve time, legal strategies, public awareness, education and money. Your involvement can make a difference!"

Well, you didn't know about it in 1990 when Nilak wrote that. This is 1995, and it's still true, but now you know it.

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Page prepared by Paula Giese.

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 19, 1995 - 12:18:32 AM