Editor, I am writing this letter in response to an article on the front page of the June 30 edition of the Coastal Courier, titled “Long Co. arson case continued.”
My issue is with the second part of Mike Riddle’s story, which deals with my case. Having corresponded with Mr. Riddle about the irresponsible and inaccurate reporting surrounding my case, I would have expected him to thoroughly check his facts in this case. He did not; therefore, I chose to write this letter. I enjoy reading letters to the editor, and I believe that this statement of fact will be viewed by more readers in this forum than as a short retraction buried in the paper.
I believe in the First Amendment right of the press to disseminate the news. I am aware — very aware — that lives and reputations can be destroyed when innocent defendants are falsely accused. It does not make a situation better when the news is exaggerated or erroneous.
The fact is, I wrote Mr. Riddle and informed him that I had maintained my integrity by pleading nolo contendere to the crimes I was accused of. I paid a fine and have satisfied the terms and conditions of my probation and have an order terminating probation. Mr. Riddle might have been well-served to check his source, seeing as how he was aware that he had conflicting stories. Might I remind him that a court recorder was present at my hearing, along with the judge, the district attorney and two attorneys from the public defender’s office.
These are the facts: I was accused of three felonies with a possible 15-year sentence. Due to the extensive press coverage, I felt that the jury pool would be “polluted,” so to speak. I was not willing to risk a jury trial and a prison sentence for crimes I did not commit. My civil actions against the state and individuals involved will continue. I am willing to share any information and discovery about this case, including who made accusations and the reasons I think they did, and I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Paul Robertson
Editor's note: The Coastal Courier confirmed the accuracy of the story in question with Long County Clerk of Courts Sherry M. Long and District Attorney Tom Durden’s office. The paper stands by its interpretation of the court proceedings.