Bob Shell: Letters From Prison – Part One



Letters From Prison: Part Two


Photography and Text by Bob Shell


One of our most constitutional rights is the right to a speedy trial. The right to a speedy trial goes back to June 15, 1215, when England’s King John was forced to put his royal seal on the Magna Carta, the Great Chaarter, created by a group of brave English noblemen who stood in Runnymeade Meadow along the Thames and said “No” to government usurping too much power.  This was the beginning of the concept of limited government.  Rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta included that the government could only arrest people for violations of the publicly known laws: that all arrests must be conducted in public, with a credible witness attesting to the charges: that private property could not be confiscated without due process, and that all accused were entitled to a speedy trial before a jury of their peers.  These tenets were incorporated into English common law, from which U.S. common law derives.  The American Revolution was all about King George violating rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta.  Much of the U.S. Constitution derives directly from the Magna Carta, including the right to a speedy trial.


In Virginia the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the Virginia Constitution and is spelled out in statute 19.2-243. That statute says that a defendant who is free on bond, as I was prior to trial, must be tried within nine months, further defined as 273 days.  Of course if there is a mutually agreed continuance, that time is not counted toward the limit.  I wrote to the Clerk of Court at the Radford Circuit Court, where I was tried and sentenced, and got her to send me copies of all of the court orders in my case. I went through all of these orders. There were 27 orders in total and six of them included continuances.  I then calculated all of the days not covered by continuances.  Unless a continuance is ordered in a court order it does not exist.  From the first indictment to trial was a total of 798 days not covered by any continuance, 525 days more than the statute allows.  Other indictments were 706 days and 317 days.  The state did not come close to meeting its own deadlines on any of my charges.  The law also says that if the state misses the deadline it results in a “Legislative Pardon” and forever bars the further prosecution of those charges.  So why am I still in prison?

I have filed several motions with the Radford Circuit Court with regard to my case.  Every time the court has simply ignored my motion.  I then filed a motion asking the judge to take action on my earlier motions. The judge wrote “Denied” on my motion, initialed and dated it, and a copy was sent to me.  When I attempted to appeal this denial, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that just writing “Denied” on my motion and mailing me a copy was not a proper court order, so there was nothing to appeal!  I’ve been stymied in my attempts to gain meaningful access to the courts, something else that’s supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution.  I have now filed a detailed motion to vacate based on my speedy trial right being violated and will have to wait and see if the court will take action on it this time.  Dealing with courts is very frustrating.  I’ve spent eight years now studying the law, something in which I had no previous interest at all, and have learned the basics.  But knowing the law does no good at all when a court simply refuses to act.


Photographs of former muse, Marion Franklin by Bob Shell. Copyright 2016

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 has served over 8 years of his sentence to date. To learn more about the case go here:

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