Established: July 18, 2009
Editor: Margaret Jean Plews

This site is to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. If you're unfamiliar with prison abolition, check out Critical Resistance. I'm just a freelance writer and human rights activist, and have no legal training.


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Free 17yo Jessica Burlew!

Free 17yo Jessica Burlew!
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Prosecuting innocence: Free Courtney Bisbee.

I've heard this mother fight for her relationship with her daughter in family court myself, and I've seen much of the evidence that could exonerate her. Not only is there reasonable doubt as to her guilt, I'm absolutely convinced of Courtney's innocence. She's a remarkable woman, driven by her love for her little girl to fight all the forces the state can amass against a person - and then some.

Andrew Thomas' tenure did damage to many ordinary people's lives here; we'll see where Bill Montgomery goes. The county attorney has a duty to victims first and foremost, and that includes victims of the state, but it takes courage for politicians - especially here - to take that kind of responsibility. Once they convict you, everyone seems more concerned with avoiding liability by admitting harm than upholding justice.

A good prosecutor is driven to find the truth, not simply seek convictions, though - and a good prosecutor's eyes on this case is what's needed.
Six years is already too long to have your mom or child taken from you - that can never be recovered. Never. There's a whole family being punished with Courtney, in fact, victims themselves of a multitude of horrible crimes - including the violence of incarceration. They all deserve to be free.

So, those who still think this system really delivers justice - and that only the "guilty" get brutalized by it anyway - need to read this woman's story. Then go sign the petition.


There was no physical evidence linking Courtney Bisbee to a crime, just the incomplete and inconsistent testimony of child witnesses who claimed they saw her engage in inappropriate touching with a 13 year old boy. And it was based on that testimony alone that she was convicted in 2006 of child molestation and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Bisbee, a 35-year-old mother and former school nurse, was prosecuted by the office of disgraced District Attorney Andrew Thomas, the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation who has been accused by the Arizona State Bar of having engaged in at least 33 ethical violations while in office, from abuse of power to prosecutorial misconduct. Thomas is also perhaps best known for prosecuting a 16-year-old boy as a child sex offender for allegedly showing a Playboy to two of his friends.

In January 2007, the case against Bisbee – already thin – began to unravel, as journalist Stephen Lemons reported in a comprehensive piece for The Phoenix New Times. Indeed, one of the prosecution's “star” witnesses, Nik Valles, signed an affidavit stating that he was forced to lie on the stand – forced to say his brother, Jon, was groped by Bisbee at a friend's house – by his mother, who he says put him up to it in order to cash-in from a lawsuit against the school where Bisbee worked.

In the affidavit, Nik states that his mother, Janette Sloan, “wanted my brother, Jonathan Valles, to make false accusations against Courtney Bisbee for financial gain.” And he says he witnessed her tell his brother “to lie and to stick to the story and, 'You'll be a rich kid.”

Nik said that, as a 15 year old, he had no choice but to heed his mother's wishes – to lie on the stand and help convict an innocent woman. He now lives with his father.

"I love her; she's my mom,” Nik told the New Times. "But I don't agree with any of the decisions that she makes, and I wouldn't trust her with my life.”

Such a stunning revelation should have immediately earned Bisbee a new trial – if not her freedom outright. But Thomas ignored it – why let something like exculpatory evidence get in the way of a conviction? – as has his successor, Bill Montgomery. And so Courtney Bisbee remains in prison.

But she has her supporters.

Dawn Kirkpatrick attended the same church as Bisbee in Scottsdale, Arizona. And while she didn't know her personally, she says they had friends in common.

“One of these friends put a letter about Courtney's case on each table of a woman's Bible study that I was attending,” Kirkpatrick tells “I picked up the letter that day and was interested in finding out more information.” And that she did, spending hours going through the evidence on a website Bisbee's parents set up about her case,

“I started to read the evidence and ended up staying up almost the whole night digging into it all,” says Kirkpatrick. “To me it was quite obvious that she was completely innocent of this alleged crime and I couldn't understand why she was still in prison. From there I had to learn how difficult it is to get someone out of prison once they are convicted.”

And from there she decided to do something about it, working to help raise awareness about Bisbee's case and starting a petition that aims to get her a new trial.

“I have become friends with Courtney and visit her in prison,” says Kirkpatrick. “As a person who was assaulted myself at the age of 16, I would never support someone accused of a crime like this unless I believed 100 percent in their innocence.”

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