A Dorchester minister is urging the federal judge who sentenced former City Councillor Chuck Turner to three years in prison to revoke or revise the sentence, saying the longtime community activist is suffering from a mental disability.
Minister Don Muhammad, in a letter sent days after Turner was sentenced in January, said he was scheduled to testify as a witness for the defense during Turner’s corruption trial in October. But he was told his testimony was not needed, Muhammad wrote in the letter to U.S. Judge Douglas Woodlock.
“What has not been brought to the fore and taken into consideration is that Chuck suffers from a disability that impedes his memory,” Muhammad wrote.
Muhammad, a minister at Muhammad’s Mosque No. 11 on Washington Street, said he would have testified that after Turner was arrested for bribery charges in 2008, Turner told him in a meeting he had accepted $200 from a government witness.
“Chuck acknowledged that he had received $200 from the government’s witness, who told him to ‘take your wife to dinner,’ ” Muhammad wrote. “After Chuck went to trial and was found guilty, an associate and I met with him in my office to see if we could lend some assistance via writing letters of support. I summarized the facts of the case as Chuck had previously relayed them to me, which included his receiving money. Chuck, in an agitated manner, said to me that he never told me he received any money.”
Muhammad, who described himself as “astounded” at Turner’s response, wrote, “It was apparent Chuck sincerely believed at this moment in time he had not told me he’d received any money, nor did he now believe he received any money from the government’s witness.”
Muhammad added: “Yet 20 minutes later in the conversation Chuck said he did receive money seemingly unaware that he had just rebuffed my stating he had told me he had received money.”
Before and after the trial, Turner, a Roxbury Green-Rainbow Party member, adamantly maintained his innocence and railed against prosecutors and the government witness, local businessman Ron Wilburn. He said in testimony he did not remember meeting Wilburn or whether Wilburn passed him the money.
Woodlock, who called Turner’s testimony “ludicrous,” responded to Muhammad earlier this month, saying because Turner is appealing the charges and his sentence, he no longer has jurisdiction over the case and has no authority to take action. But he added that there was the possibility the case could come before him again.
“Given the decision of the defense not to call you as a witness, it appears that your perspective was not fully developed by Mr. Turner and his trial counsel as a matter of their considered strategy,” Woodlock wrote. “Moreover, I note that in his closing argument to the jury, Mr. Wilson, on behalf of Mr. Turner, in fact suggested that Mr. Turner may have received $200 or some other amount, but not $1,000, from the government’s witness.”
Turner is also suing the City Council, saying they did not have the legal authority to remove him in December after his conviction.
Turner’s corruption case was part of the scandal that enveloped former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. Wilkerson last year pleaded guilty to corruption charges and was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. She is appealing the sentence.
Turner, Muhammad, and Turner’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The Bay State Banner, a local newspaper, wrote in a recent editorial that it was a “shame that Turner has already suffered so severely for little more than the frailties of old aging which all of us who live long enough will one day come to experience.” In an interview with CommonWealth magazine after the sentencing, Turner said he found the editorial “patronizing.”
Asked about his appeal, Turner told the magazine that “as I look at the law, I’m just very doubtful about the way the way the law is constructed for me to be able to win.”