Posted on July 9, 2018

From Fighting Injustice to Facing Death Row: The Bizarre Case of Pastor Glasgow

Shaila Dewan, New York Times, July 7, 2018

A Google search will show that Pastor Kenneth Glasgow first made news in 2001 as the former crack addict and prison inmate who was fretted over by his older half brother, the Rev. Al Sharpton Jr.


During the Senate race between Roy S. Moore and Doug Jones last year, Mr. Glasgow gained attention with his effort to register as voters thousands of people with felony records, a campaign that thrilled left-wing groups while outraging Breitbart News.

Nowadays, though, one thing tops the search results: a mug shot, his eyes hooded, his white goatee jutting out at a defiant angle.

In March, Mr. Glasgow was charged with capital murder.

The day before the fatal shooting took place, he spoke at the local March for Our Lives for gun control. {snip}


The police say that a passenger in a car that Mr. Glasgow was driving got out and fatally shot another motorist. Under Alabama’s complicity law, also known as the “aiding and abetting” statute, an accomplice to a crime is just as guilty as the main actor. To make their case against Mr. Glasgow, prosecutors must prove that he knew, or reasonably should have known, that violence was going to occur. He says he had no idea.


I had arrived at the office of his defense lawyer, Derek Yarbrough, to find a surprise guest: Rickey Stokes, a bail bondsman, news blogger, private investigator, 911 board chairman and assistant coroner.

Mr. Stokes and Mr. Glasgow {snip} have been adversaries — Mr. Glasgow, who is black, once protested when Mr. Stokes, who is white, chained two African-American bail-bond clients to the courthouse doors. {snip}


Here’s what happened: On Sunday, March 25, Mr. Glasgow was in the Bottom, the poor neighborhood where he does much of his work, with a friend known as Little John. A young man, Jamie Townes, who Mr. Glasgow says was an acquaintance, approached and reported that his car was missing. Mr. Glasgow believed he had seen the car, a Monte Carlo, a few blocks away.

Mr. Townes, a woman named Choyce Bush, Little John and Mr. Glasgow got into the car Mr. Glasgow was driving that day, a borrowed brand-new Toyota Camry, to go look for it.

The Monte Carlo had gone on a wild ride, careening through church grounds, fields and ditches, knocking over a street sign and ramming into a tree in someone’s front yard. Finally, with its hood popped open, blocking the driver’s view, it plowed into the front of the Camry on the driver’s side.


After the collision, Mr. Townes got out of the back seat of the Camry and, the police say, began firing at the driver of the Monte Carlo, who everyone assumed was a man.

It turned out to be Breunia Jennings, a young woman with a long history of mental illness, who in the preceding hours had cut her hair short, fled from a motel barefoot and barely dressed, donned men’s clothing and, apparently, found Mr. Townes’s car with the motor running. The police now believe that she was driving so erratically because she was being chased.

There’s more to the story. Mr. Glasgow says that not only did the Monte Carlo hit the Camry from the front, but another vehicle hit the Camry from behind. (Ms. Bush also told the police about a rear-end collision, and Mr. Townes said he was “punch drunk” from “multiple collisions,” according to police testimony.) The Camry did suffer some rear damage, but no third vehicle was ever found.

Thinking there was some sort of ambush in progress, Mr. Glasgow says, he ducked, and did not see the shooting. Nor, he says, was he aware that Mr. Townes had gotten out of the car.

Dothan is a city where judgment is swift and punishment can be harsh. It is the seat of Houston County, which ranks among the top 10 in the nation for death row convictions. It has a relatively new district attorney; the previous one was known for striking African-Americans from juries.

But at Mr. Glasgow’s preliminary hearing, where he appeared in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit, Judge Benjamin Lewis seemed dubious that criminal charges were warranted.


Judge Lewis took the rare step in a capital murder case of allowing Mr. Glasgow to post bond. A grand jury will decide whether to indict him.


There has been surprisingly little controversy over what may be the most unflattering part of the episode: Mr. Glasgow spent the minutes after the accident trying to commit insurance fraud. The Camry’s owner was concerned that her insurance would not cover the accident, so she hurried to the scene in order to stand in as the driver.


When Mr. Glasgow learned, hours later at the police station, that the situation was far more serious than just a car wreck, he says he promptly confessed to having been the driver.

Mr. Glasgow, 53, says he did not know that Mr. Townes, 27, had a gun. Even so, prosecutors may try to argue that it was reasonable to expect that Mr. Townes, who the police say is a drug dealer, would commit violence. Mr. Townes had previous state charges for theft and drug possession, but not for violent offenses.


In the eyes of the police, Mr. Glasgow’s association with Mr. Townes is suspicious. But helping people with unsavory pasts is Mr. Glasgow’s calling. It was some two decades ago, during Mr. Glasgow’s most recent of several stints in prison, that he and a friend conceived of a ministry focused on addiction, poverty and life after incarceration. They called it The Ordinary People Society.


Dothan’s population is about one-third African-American, but the city has an entrenched white power structure: It has never had a black mayor, police chief, circuit judge, county sheriff or school superintendent. It is the type of place where, if you call the police chief or the district attorney with a complaint, he may offer to pray with you right there on the line. In part through the common ground of Christianity, Mr. Glasgow has been able to forge some relationships with white businessmen who help pay for his work.

{snip} Though his hearing was packed with supporters, some African-American residents have turned against Mr. Glasgow as well.


In that environment, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Glasgow, too, would believe he is being deliberately targeted. For his opponents, he says, restoring voting rights to felons was bad enough, he says, but the victory of Mr. Jones, a Democrat, in the Senate race was the final straw. “They want me dead,” he insisted.