Former Memphis educator Vern Braswell hopes resurfaced character letters lead to prison release

Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 10:51 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s a new effort to get Vern Braswell out of prison, more than 15 years after the former Memphis educator was convicted in the death of his wife.

The latest twist is a mysterious package sent to Braswell behind bars. He and his loved ones hope the contents of that package lead to his release.

On a blustery day in downtown Memphis, Braswell supporters called for winds of change. “The system is flawed,” said Darnell Gardner, who’s known Braswell for 30 years. “I don’t see how taking documents from somebody’s file is o.k., and I don’t see how judges allow this to happen.”

In 2005, Braswell was convicted of strangling his wife, Sheila, and sentenced to 24 years without parole. The defense claimed her death was accidental, caused by rough sex.

Friends wrote letters, character references, describing the former assistant principal as a man devoted to his community. But those letters disappeared from Braswell’s file as the appeals process started.

Braswell’s former attorney, Lauren Fuchs, said those letters could have had an impact on the appeals court justices.

“The people that spoke about Vern were speaking very honestly in those letters,” said Fuchs. “He is a man that really does care about everybody around him.”

The letters recently resurfaced, sent anonymously to Braswell. His mother Mary said the following in a statement:

“I would have never thought in 2021 we’d still have Jim Crow justice in Memphis, Tennessee.” WMC Action News 5 reached out to Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich for comment about this case and the missing character reference letters. Her office forwarded this statement:  “There is an established legal procedure for appealing a conviction that does not include first holding a press conference and hoping the media will carry the ball for you. Without knowing what these ‘papers’ say, who wrote them, or when they wrote them, there is nothing on which I can comment.”

Braswell is representing himself in this push to get out of prison. He’s been diagnosed with cancer and his family worries that with the disease and COVID-19, he won’t live long enough to finish the rest of his sentence.

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