California Is About To Execute an Innocent Black Man
A 1995 robbery gone wrong in the town of Tulare, California, ended with the murder of five people. For years, the police were unable to pin the case on anyone—until they arrested Timothy James Young. The sole evidence in the case against Young was the word of Anthony Wolfe, a jailhouse informant who was not present at the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, Young was sentenced to death in 2001. 16 years later, the state of California is about to proceed with his execution. Allison Dean of the Free Tim Young Campaign joins Rattling the Bars to explain Young’s case and the flagrant racism of the criminal system and the death penalty which it exemplifies.
Studio: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Mansa Musa: Welcome to this edition of Rattling The Bars. I’m your host, Mansa Musa. When we think of the death penalty, when we think about executing people in the USA, we oftentimes come down on two different sides: pro and anti-death penalty. We oftentimes come down in this manner because we have feelings about what a person did versus what’s getting ready to be done to that person. At no time in this process do we think the person who’s getting ready to be executed is actually innocent, the person who’s being executed actually has not done anything, as they languish away on death row, waiting for someone to decide not to execute them or to execute them, and when they’re going inside the death room.
Here joining me today to talk about a case dealing with the death penalty and death row, is Allison Dean. She’s here to talk about Tim Young. Tim Young is an inmate or prisoner on death row in San Quentin. Tim Young has been on death row in San Quentin for a number of years and more importantly, Tim Young is claiming his innocence. All evidence creates a lot of doubt as to his guilt. In this country, you’re supposed to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If doubt exists, then you have to be found not guilty. So why is Tim Young still on death row when all this doubt exists? Thank you, Allison, for joining me today.
Allison Dean: Thank you.
Mansa Musa: Let’s start by telling our audience a little bit about yourself.
Allison Dean: I am the campaign chair for Tim Young for his freedom campaign that he has. It mostly involves social media presence, speaking with journalists, and helping to do outreach for him because when you’re incarcerated you need somebody on the outside. He doesn’t have any family support, so he does a lot of work with journalists. I found him through a college course that I did, so we’ve become friends after that and I have stuck with him because I really believe in him, I believe in his story, and I believe in his innocence.
Mansa Musa: Let’s talk about that as I open up. We have, in this country, people who are pro and anti-death penalty. And when you come into this space, it very rarely is in the space of innocence and guilt. It’s very rarely in the space of did the person commit the crime or did the person not commit the crime? It’s more about morals. Some people morally don’t think a person should be executed and some people think that they should be shot on the spot.
Now let’s talk about Tim’s case. All right. Unpack what he was charged with and what evidence they say existed to find him guilty, to your knowledge.
Allison Dean: Tim was convicted of multiple homicides in Tulare County, California, which is more in the Central Valley of California. It’s a very, very racist area. Tim is Black and he is a minority in that area. He was convicted by the statement of a jailhouse informant, someone who was coerced by the police to give information, and trained by police to give information because they couldn’t solve the case. They didn’t have proper evidence against him. The only physical DNA evidence they had to convict him was a mixture that was complicated and couldn’t be really determined as him. So they were definitely using this jailhouse informant, training him, interviewing with him, and working his story, because they needed a conviction.
Mansa Musa: So basically, the physical evidence was inconclusive?
Allison Dean: Yes.
Mansa Musa: All right. And because the physical evidence was inconclusive, they went and got a jailhouse informer to fabricate evidence against him. All right. To your knowledge, do y’all have a history on this person? Is this person known? Has this person been used before as a jailhouse informant? Has he been in cases before?
Allison Dean: The jailhouse informant that was used to incarcerate Tim was well known by police, and had a deal with police in the area. He was facing another charge himself and made this deal with his cop, his handler, in order to convict him. It was well-known in the area that he was an informant and he could be an ally to the police.
Mansa Musa: All right. So in terms of Tim’s initial attorneys who represented him at trial, it stands to reason that if this person has this background, then it’s obvious that he probably perjured himself or there would be enough information out there to impeach him. What about his initial attorney turns that tried? Did he get adequate representation?
Allison Dean: He did not have adequate representation. He did have a lawyer that he retained himself after he had started representing himself in court. But that lawyer really didn’t advocate for him, the legal team wasn’t advocating for him. It was really complicated because he was being tried with his brother. They were both being tried. They’re both incarcerated on death row at San Quentin, currently. There were issues because the brothers wanted the trials to be separated in order to actually have a fair trial, and the judge refused. There were a lot of issues within the actual process of the court proceedings that were completely unjust and unfair. It was not adequate representation from his legal team.
Mansa Musa: And how long has he been on death row?
Allison Dean: He has been on death row since 2005, I believe. Or 2000. No, 2005 was when he was on death row. He’s been incarcerated since 1999. He was being held in Tulare County for many years.
Mansa Musa: And so now he’s on death row at San Quentin?
Allison Dean: Yes, he’s at San Quentin.
Mansa Musa: Okay. Now how old is he?
Allison Dean: He’s 53.
Mansa Musa: So he’s 53 years old. And you said both he and his brother are on death row together?
Allison Dean: Yes.
Mansa Musa: All right. Now in terms of what’s going on with this case, because as I was reading some of the background information, to me, the information or the evidence that they relied on is shaky, at best, and it created a lot of doubt. What is he advocating as far as his innocence? What is he highlighting other than the fact that they went and got an informant to fabricate?
Allison Dean: So they have the informant to fabricate the story. A lot of it’s racially motivated, of course. He has a lot of evidence pointing to his day-to-day that he did… On the actual day of the crime, they’re trying to make these claims about where he was. But he has doctor’s notes, work notes, actual documented evidence of –
Mansa Musa: Physical evidence, yeah, right.
Allison Dean: – And there are also issues within the way that the proceedings went. The evidence was completely mishandled the entire time that they did the investigation. There are documents of the evidence room paperwork that have white-out; The dates have been changed, and the names have been changed. It’s entirely possible that evidence was being held by police at the same time it was also being tested for DNA and we have no idea. So cross-contamination is completely plausible. Tulare County, as I said, is majority white, majority Hispanic, with a very, very small African-American population. So a lot of what Tim is trying to focus on is the racial motivations of the case. He’s really interested in the Racial Justice Act and filing an appeal alongside that in order to get more outreach on his case and word on his case.
Mansa Musa: Did they live in this county or were they –
Allison Dean: Yes.
Mansa Musa: – Do the police know him and his family? Have they always had issues with them?
Allison Dean: He did have issues with the police. He and his brother weren’t an issue to police, but because you’re Black in Tulare County, you’re known.
Mansa Musa: Yeah, an obvious candidate. All right. Going forward, which appeals does he have in effect? Is he waiting on trying to develop an appeal process, to get some appeals? Where is he at in terms of his overall legality? Because I know at some juncture, they’re going to issue a death warrant if he doesn’t get any traction.
Allison Dean: So for him right now, really seeking pro bono representation for an appeal. He has a state-appointed attorney who is really dragging their feet in terms of this because that’s part of the process. They’re a representative of the state. Their interest is not in death row inmates, their interest is in whatever the state wants. So they’re really dragging their feet on that. She wants to wait 10-15 years to even file an appeal. So if he gets pro bono representation on this, then you can speed along that appeal process, and work in the Racial Justice Act process. That is really what he would need.
Mansa Musa: And in terms of him, how is his health?
Allison Dean: His health has actually been really declining. During the COVID pandemic, he was infected very early. COVID inside was way different than what it was out here for us. He has long COVID, he’s had a lot of health deterioration because of it. He recently had a lot of issues where he wasn’t receiving proper medical care and had to file a lot of appeals to see an outside practitioner. They’re actually doing a switch out of San Quentin. Death row inmates are being moved out of San Quentin to different prisons throughout the state of California, per Gavin Newsome’s new plan to do a rehabilitation at San Quentin.
And that sounds like maybe it’s a good thing but he’s still going to be incarcerated. He’s going to be in a different space with new people away from his community. Because his community’s here. I’m in San Francisco, a lot of his community’s in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and the Bay. So without that, he’s really going to suffer. We don’t know what it’s going to look like in terms of his incarceration. But right now he is really suffering medically and not receiving adequate care, which is a big struggle.
Mansa Musa: All right and I’m going to go back and revisit something you said earlier. You said how you got involved was in a class project but then you said that you believe in his innocence. Why do you believe in this innocence? What is it about this case that makes you say that you believe in it? This is where people that I’ve known from interviewing and getting feedback, this is where the line is often drawn, in terms of people’s views on the death penalty. So why do you believe in his innocence?
Allison Dean: I believe in his innocence because I believe in the malfeasance of the judicial system and I believe in the issues of his case. If you look at it from a boilerplate point-of-view, there were issues with witnesses, there were issues with the jailhouse informant, the evidence tampering is questionable enough, and the timeline doesn’t add up. And I got to know Tim and I got to know him as a person. And there’s no way in my mind that he could do something like this. And I don’t think that you sit on death row at San Quentin for over 20 years and work every single day to make your story known and to make your innocence known, and not actually be innocent. That’s abhorrent. I don’t think anyone could actually do that. So I believe that innocence fluctuates. I don’t think that we should only allow those who are innocent to have the death penalty taken away.
That’s a criminal act in itself. I don’t think we should be using the death penalty on anyone, especially not innocent people. And our view of innocence needs to change a little bit. Even if there was someone who committed this crime and went through the process that he went through the courts, it would still be unfair. It’s an unjust trial and he at least deserved that. So if the crime was committed by someone, the way the trial went on was wrong. But I do believe that Tim is innocent. I do not believe that he committed this crime. It was a snowball effect of people using what they could because they needed a conviction. This was the biggest homicide case in the Central Valley ever, up until recently. So they needed a solution and Tim happened to be their choice.
Mansa Musa: And so from your point of view, he never received a fair trial. It’s common practice that they use jailhouse informants. I know, I was locked up 48 years prior to getting released three years ago. And I recall numerous cases where a person would be on the chair and write the state’s attorney and tell them that they got evidence that they heard the person say… And once the state’s attorney gets them and talks to them, they realize that they don’t have that. But it goes from what we have, to the opportunity, to what we can get. It goes from we got actual evidence, to opportunity, to manufacture evidence. And that sounds like what happened with Tim’s case. But at the rate that things are going, and as you said earlier that they’re going to move him to another place in one of the existing plantations in California, how would that impact his defense, to your knowledge?
Allison Dean: I don’t know if it would necessarily impact his defense. He would still have the same representative. She has visited him maybe twice since she’s been his lawyer and she’s technically been his lawyer for 10 years.
Mansa Musa: Oh my goodness.
Allison Dean: So I don’t think it’s going to impact his defense. It’s going to make things more complicated for him. It’s going to make communication more complicated with his support system, it’s going to isolate him, it’s going to be a different environment that he has to get used to. He spent 20-plus years now in this space. And when you’re on death row and you’re in the condemned unit, you spend 23 hours of your day in there, usually, sometimes 24. You’re spending the whole day in that cell. That’s all you get. So to have that and then completely switch up what his day-to-day is going to look like, I know it’s going to have an effect on him, I know it’s going to change how he’s able to function.
It’s very worrisome. So I’m really, really hoping that my work and the work of others can help him gain traction. He does a lot of writing. He is a poet, he publishes essays. He’s trying to get his name out there. He has a lot of projects in the works. We’re trying to do enough outreach that somebody sees what I see and what others see about him and the fact that he is innocent and should not be on death row. And should not be incarcerated at all, but should definitely not be on death row.
Mansa Musa: I was at a gathering with a guy, Hinton. He was on death row in Alabama and he wrote a book called The Sun Does Shine. And he was talking about that whole thing. He was innocent. And after being on death row for 35 years, as opposed to a retrial, when the fabricated evidence came up and they realized that the number one evidence they used against him was a gun that could never have been used to commit the crime, once he had finally got the court to rule that they have to test the gun, they decided to not try him so they wouldn’t have to pay him. And in Tim’s case, where’s the informant? What’s going on with the informant? Has he become a rebel informant? Are there other people on death row that he went and mysteriously found himself and their presence and told that? What’s going on with him? Do y’all have any knowledge of what’s up with him?
Allison Dean: Yeah, absolutely.
Mansa Musa: Because it might go a long way in terms of showing how the state does its business.
Allison Dean: Part of the class that I did was reinvestigating Tim’s case. We started from the beginning, we did the whole thing over again to see where malfeasance was. The jailhouse informant is out. He is out in the world. He did the five-ish years that it took from when he came to the police to when the trial ended. He was being held by Tulare County at that time. The judge decided that was punishment enough, that the Young brothers get life in prison, they get death, but he’s fine. And he’s a white man and he has served his sentence, he did his due diligence, he listened to the law, he can be free. He walked free.
Mansa Musa: And then in terms of the fabrication, what is it that he’s saying? How did he get the knowledge of this particular offense?
Allison Dean: He was arrested the night of the murders and was in the back of a cop car. We believe that he heard information being divulged on the radio between police officers and that’s how he gained information about this. He himself claims that he and the Young brothers committed these murders together. So he is an accomplice. He says that he was there and yet he is walking free. He’s not on death row.
Mansa Musa: And not only he ain’t on death row, he didn’t even get a significant penalty for his alleged involvement in these homicides as an accessory or being complicit in directly being involved. Going forward, what do you want our audience to know about Tim and how can they support his campaign?
Allison Dean: So we have a website, timothyjamesyoung.com. It’s his website. His Instagram is Free Tim Young. It’s about outreach at this point. We need people to know his story, reshare our content, and sign a petition to get his voice out there. This is all on our website and on our Instagram. He is an artist, he is a poet. He’s a wonderful poet. He writes wonderful essays as well. He speaks on abolition, he speaks on racial justice, he speaks on environmentalism as well. Actually, it’s a big part of him. So having people know that they can reach out to him and they can write to him.
He has a few letter campaigns with various museums. We’re working on a project with a different university. He is the solitary gardener at UCSC, which is a wonderful project by Jackie Semel, who is an abolitionist environmentalist. Getting to know him and knowing he’s a person and he’s a person who deserves better, is how I view it. He is somebody that you can talk to, he’s somebody that wants you to reach out, he’s somebody who wants to tell his story. And it’s up to us to help them share that.
Mansa Musa: Thank you. There you have it. The Real News and Rattling The Bars. Imagine if you found yourself waking up one morning and somebody said that you committed a heinous crime or murder. They lock you and your brother up, and unbeknownst to you, someone is trying to avoid coming to prison so they fabricate a story about you and you have no knowledge of this. But more importantly, you have knowledge of everywhere you’ve been at that time. Yet 20 years later, no one believes you in the system that’s supposed to protect you.