Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #10

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #9
Bob Shell: Letters From Prison


Letters From Prison: Part 10, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


Let me talk a bit about the American justice system. The system is supposed to consider you “innocent until proven guilty.”. Notice the language: “until,” not “unless.”. Saying “until” presumes that you will be found guilty. Most of the public thinks “they wouldn’t have charged him if he wasn’t guilty.”. And as soon as you’re arrested, you’re thrown in jail and have to arrange bail money from in there, which isn’t easy. My original bail was set at $ 50,000. Those who have never tangled with the system probably don’t know how this really works. I was not expected to hand over $ 50,000 in cash, but $ 5,000 to a bondsman, who guarantees that I will show up in court. In addition to the money, the bondsman wants security. In my case I gave the bondsman the money plus the deed to my property and title to my car. The bondsmen keeps the money and returns the security when you don’t violate the terms of your bond. When I was let out of jail after thirty days, I was on house arrest. I could not leave my home except to go to see my lawyer or a doctor. That lasted a year! Presumed innocent, yeah right! After six months of being “free” on bond, we petitioned the judge to let me work, and he said I could go to my studio from 9 to 5 one day a week! My studio was a mess from the police search, and they’d confiscated a bunch of cameras and lenses, my video camera, even one of my best tripods. I had to scramble to replace the missing equipment so I could go back to work and finish books and articles I was under contract to do. They also took all of my CF cards, so I had no storage media for my images. In spite of multiple promises to return things, not a single item was ever returned. Some of the equipment was on loan from Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Sony, Tamron, Sigma, Mamiya, etc., for editorial evaluation and was not even mine. Letters from these companies to the police and prosecutor asking for the return of their property were ignored. This made it very hard for me to borrow equipment from these companies for review articles, and strained relationships that had taken years to build.

To make a long story short, there was a four year delay between my arrest and trial. When you are charged with a crime the prosecution is supposed to give you copies of all the evidence against you plus any evidence that might help exonerate you. As one of my lawyers said, getting this material in my case was “like pulling teeth.”. This material, called discovery, is supposed to be given to you promptly so you can investigate it. In my case the prosecution sent it to us in dribs and drabs over the whole four years. At one point we were just days away from trial when the prosecutor plopped a thick stack of material on our table during a hearing, admitted that some of it was exculpatory, and forced yet another delay in trial. I was arrested on June 7, 2003, but my trial did not begin until the end of. August in 2007. Yeah, speedy trial!

The first step in a trial is called voir dire, and is where you select a jury. My case was heavily publicized in the area newspapers and on TV, (and in the photo press worldwide) so finding a local jury that knew nothing about the case was impossible. We had tried for a “change of venue” where the trial is moved to an area where potential jurors wouldn’t have heard of the case, but the judge denied that motion. So we had to choose a local jury. This was surreal. One potential juror fled the courtroom in tears when told she would have to look at explicit nude photos. Another woman swore that even though she’d seen the media coverage she could put that aside and be objective. As she was about to step down and join the other jurors in the jury room, she muttered, “But he done it.”. Asked by my attorney what she meant, she said, “What he done to that girl.”. We struck her from the jury, of course! Another potential juror said he could be objective, but then said, ‘but he shouldn’t photograph them naked, it just ain’t right.”. Struck!! That was the kind of jury I was stuck with. Much of the evidence was technical, computer and digital imaging stuff, but most of the potential jurors were computer illiterate, and the judge said all he knew about computers was how to turn one on.

I said earlier that I was held in jail for thirty days; during that time the police went down to North Carolina where Marion was from and interviewed a number of her friends, and told these friends their version of things. Some believed them and wouldn’t talk to me when I got out of jail. Marion’s best friend, Samantha, had been up to Radford several times to visit Marion, and got to know me, and modeled for me with Marion and solo, and she told the police they were wrong in no uncertain terms. To give you an idea of the quality of these interviews, they gave Samantha’s last name as Hawels, which isn’t even close to her actual name – they only got the first letter right!! Other names were equally butchered, and I still have no idea who one of them was! My lawyers took to calling the police “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”. They were just so unbelievably wrong about everything! As has been said, the more outrageous a lie, the harder to prove it wrong.

Back in his early days in politics, Lyndon B. Johnson was campaigning for office in Texas, where politics are down and dirty. He said to one of his staff, “let’s spread a story that my opponent f**ks pigs.”. “But that’s not true, Lyndon!” the staffer objected. Said LBJ, “Well, let’s make the son of a bitch deny it!”. That’s how my case was. The most outrageous lies were said about me, and I was put on the defensive to deny and disprove them. As just one example, I was portrayed as a serial sex offender who lured young women into my studio, drugged, and raped them. There was not even a hint of any evidence to support this outrageous allegation, but I had to bring in many former models to fight it….


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here


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