As I entered the gym of Southwest Tennessee Community College on Union Ave., I could hear the basketballs bouncing on the hardwood floors. The stopping-and-going sounds made by the sneakers were sharp and precise as the Saluqis players moved in rhythm.
This was pre-practice, where some of interim coach Kevin Whitted players show up early – for the betterment of the team – to work on the individual things they haven't perfected yet. Free throws, left-handed lay-ups, catch-and-shoot three pointers all help the team.
I was here to interview Marshun Newell, who at one point satt behind bars facing 65 to 100 years with no parole, if convicted as accused. I quickly got the feeling that everything had made its way back into place in his life. I'd never met anyone who had ever had a million-dollar bond and is now a free man. A bond that large reflects that authorities have definitely got the right man, right?
"I originally had a $250,000 bond for especially aggravated robbery," said Newell, "but then I was recharged with aggravated assault and deployment of a fire arm and aggravated arson. so that's when my bond was increased to a million dollars."
I wanted to know what happened, to the best of his knowledge.
"Well, on the million dollar bond charge I didn't have any knowledge of what had happened, nor have I ever had any intention of doing anything of that nature. I was completely shocked that I had a million dollar bond and that I had been incarcerated for an entire year for it," said Newell.
"I was falsely accused by a friend from my neighborhood's sister who said I did something I didn't do. I was actually taken into custody on my way to basketball practice and the detectives told me what I was charged with. I told them that I was totally unaware of the events that had happened, but it didn't matter to them. I quickly touched based with my coach, at the time that was Verties Sails, and told him what happened about me being arrested."
How did that go?
"It went well because he never believed that I was capable of doing what I was charged with," said Newell. "So as my time behind bars began to get longer and our basketball season was starting, I stayed in contact with him to check on things with the team. Then later when I went to trial, he testified for me as a character witness. He let them know that I was not that kind of person."
The other people involved in the crime, were they college students or were you the only one?
"No, I was the only one. You see the first crime was between my brother and a friend of mine who got into it, which led up to him getting shot and paralyzed. So the fact that it was my brother, he wanted to make it seem like I was in on that, but I wasn't. That's how the entire mess got started. He started telling people that me and my brother had robbed him."
Did you rob him Marshun?
OK, so tell me about the arson?
"Well, about a month after I got out on bond about the robbery case, I was accused of this arson crime because the same guy's house got shot up and set on fire and everybody was saying it was me. But it wasn't me at all. I don't do stuff like that."
You have a lot of tattoos and you're a black man, you kind of tall, imposing and you knew the victim. So this crime could fit, right? Are you in a gang, Marshun? Is your brother in a gang?
"It can't fit because I didn't do it. And no sir, we are not in a gang."
I spoke with your lawyer, attorney Kamilah Turner – highly intelligent woman. She had nothing but glowing things to say about you. In fact, she's the reason that I'm sitting here with you today. It's highly improbable that an attorney pushes an ex-defendant's cause unless he had made big money for the attorney. She has done so based soley on the great young man she believed she was defending.
"Yes, I was very frustrated when I met with her, but I put my trust in her. She knew I wasn't the person they were saying I was. I knew she was going to do a good job and she did," Newell said.
"This wasn't easy because I had to really hold my peace because the prosecutors were saying so many mean things about me that I knew wasn't true. They had even went back to my old Myspace page from five years ago and was trying to show the jury how horrible of a person I was. They introduced childish things that we all do or say at that age. I just shook my head.
"They play a whole lot of games," said Newell. "I just wish that they would look at individuals closer and get to know them before charging them with stuff. People lose a lot of time and life fighting false allegations. I never been to jail, I don't have a juvenile record, That's not me. It didn't work anyway because in the end I got a not-guilty verdict. The game was over."
I asked how the experience had changed his life.
"While being incarcerated I had such limited space to myself. They treat you like you really don't matter. During this time I lost the only caregiver I ever known, as my grandmother passed away, and that was hard," Newell said.
"In the end, I have learned to cherish life more and focus on the things that matter the most. I had so much time to think and it has made me a role model to the people of my neighborhood. You have to be a real strong person to handle incarceration."
What your books look like? How's basketball?
"I have a 2.4 grade point average, but I'm shooting for higher as I get ready to attend a four-year college next year. In basketball I play the guard position and I'm doing pretty good. I average 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals and I may just win player of the year. I'm in the running for it."
You have anything you would like to say to the prosecutors or the people that falsely accused you. Either way, here's your chance?
Now that's maturity. Your life is saying enough young man.
(Kelvin Cowans can be reached at (kelvincowans @hotmail.com)