Aug 11, 2002

Story changes - again

Woman's testimony sent a man to prison
BY FRANK GREEN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

A woman who sent a Crewe man to prison for 45 years while she was facing her fourth felony charge has changed her story on his guilt, yet again.

In a case that already illustrates the danger of using criminal "snitches" as witnesses for the state, Sheila Barbour Stokes swore in a June 18 affidavit obtained by the state that she was tricked into signing an earlier affidavit.

In the earlier affidavit, signed in July 2001, Stokes said she lied on the stand against an innocent Larry Donnel Fowlkes in order to avoid being locked up for her most recent criminal charge. Fowlkes' lawyers are hoping to use that affidavit in appeals.

Stokes' testimony in 1996 was the key evidence implicating Fowlkes in the brutal, 1995 slaying of Ida Bowlin, who was stabbed to death during a robbery in Nottoway County. No physical evidence or laboratory tests linked Fowlkes to the crime and he had an alibi, but the jury believed Stokes.

Stokes testified she heard Fowlkes and some other men plan a robbery in which Fowlkes said he would drive. She also testified that the day after the slaying of Bowlin, she helped Fowlkes clean blood off the back seat of his car.

Stokes did not come forward with the information about Fowlkes until two months after the slaying but just after she had been charged with her fourth felony.

Stokes' mother, sister and brother believe she lied about Fowlkes to avoid jail or prison.

Employment records indicate that Stokes could not have witnessed what she testified to in court. And scientific tests were unable to find any trace of blood in Fowlkes' car.

Stokes signed a notarized affidavit July 18, 2001, in which she said she lied about Fowlkes in an effort to avoid being locked up for the felony charge she was facing - and she signed it at the risk of being prosecuted for perjury.

She signed her new affidavit, in which she said she was tricked into signing the first one, a month after a story about the case appeared in The Times-Dispatch. The new affidavit is among papers filed by the Virginia attorney general's office in a federal appeals court last month.

An accompanying affidavit from Lt. R.L. Scruggs, who investigated the murder, said that Stokes told him in December 2001 that she had been tricked by a private investigator into signing the July affidavit.

But the private investigator, Alfred C. Brown, of Richmond, denied misleading Stokes or making her any false promises. "She was fully aware that it was all about Larry," he said. Brown said that "she was sorry about the testimony and she wanted to correct her previous mistake."

In court papers filed this week, Fowlkes' lawyers strongly deny any trickery was used to obtain the 2001 affidavit.

Julia E. Sullivan, one of Fowlkes' lawyers, said that when she visited the Stokes' Blackstone home in May 2001 to see Sheila Stokes, she spent about an hour with her husband, Joseph Stokes, who said he "prayed" that his wife would tell the truth about Larry Fowlkes.

"The July 2001 affidavit signed by Ms. Stokes was the result of good faith requests - free of improper promises, inducements, or pressure - that she retract the false testimony that sent an innocent man to jail for what, given his declining health, is likely to be the rest of his life," they wrote.

The new affidavit, Fowlkes' lawyers contend, only makes an evidentiary hearing aimed at Stokes' credibility and the constitutionality of Fowlkes' conviction more necessary.

In her most recent affidavit, Stokes said the private investigator covered up what she was signing and told her it was a document that could help get her son out of prison.

But even her son, Robert Barbour, in his own affidavit, says Stokes admitted to him that she lied about Fowlkes. Barbour is serving 33 years in prison for offenses including robbery and forcible sodomy.

Contact Frank Green at (804) 649-6340 or fgreen@timesdispatch.com


 
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