Maddox Pagones v. Sharpton & Mason: 1997-98
A Ten-year Delay
"Are you ready to testify?" Stanton asked his client as the former assistant district attorney took the stand.
"I've been ready for 10 years," Pagones said.
With a few simple questions, Stanton got down to the nuts and bolts of the case. "Did you rape Tawana Brawley?"
"No," replied Pagones, adding that he had never even met her in person.
"Did you conspire with Robert Abrams to obstruct justice?"
"Did you have Harry Crist [killed]?"
During Pagones' cross-examination, Hardy stressed the precise legal requirements that a public figure must meet in order to prove libel, asking, "Is there a witness that has testified that they knew for a fact that when Reverend Sharpton made those statements, he did not believe them?"
"Indirectly. I believe Sharpton said that himself when he took the stand and lied for days," Pagones answered. "I believe that every witness that has taken the stand has contradicted what Sharpton, Mason, and Maddox said.… Sharpton knew he was lying. Make no mistake about that."
During Pagones' testimony, another outburst from Stephen Jackson resulted in him spending a night in jail for arguing with the judge. Finally, after 24 days of being questioned and cross-examined, Pagones left the witness stand.
In his final summation Stanton got to the crux of the matter, attacking the defendants' motives as well as their character. "These men are dangerous. They're bad. They're evil," he told the jury. "Don't let them get away with this.… They don't care who they stepped on and who they stepped over.… They destroyed lives for their own self-advancement."
Jackson, in a furious counterattack, thundered that Pagones was "lucky he is not in jail" for rape and kidnap, and urged the jurors to "correct history" by dismissing the defamation claim.
Labeling the suit "three judicial lynchings," Maddox sought to portray the defendants as martyrs. "We are here because we stood up for the oppressed.… We have stood up for the poor, and now it's time to be persecuted."
Almost eight contentious months after the trial began, the case finally went to the jury for deliberation on July 9, 1998. Four days later the jury decided that Pagones had been defamed by the defendants, and he was subsequently awarded $345,000 in damages.
Tawana Brawley did not avoid punishment for her roll in the affair. On October 9, 1998, Judge Hickman ordered her to pay Pagones $185,000 in damages resulting from her 1991 default. During his sentencing, he publicly upbraided her, saying she had "… thumbed her nose at the jury by not appearing to testify under oath … in the history of this state, never has a teenager turned the prosecutorial and judicial systems literally upside down with such false claims."
Suggestions for Further Reading
Los Angeles Times: February 11, 1998, A12; February 12, 1998, A22; March 27, 1998, A18; July 9, 1998, A14; July 14, 1998, A12; July 28, 1998, A9; July 30, 1998, All; November 22, 1998, A26.
McFadden, Robert D., ed. Outrage—The Story behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax. New York: Bantam, 1990.
Sharpton, Al and Anthony Walton. Go and Tell Pharaoh. New York: Doubleday, 1996.