Darius Elam, the brother incarcerated for 38 years based largely on a suspect piece of evidence (a yellow notebook paper) and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who has both publicly and privately recanted, and said he was paid to lie on Elam, may finally taste freedom.
At least, that’s the hope Tammie Lang Campbell, founder of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation, is holding onto after learning that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office recently decided to “un-recuse” itself, and lead an investigation into Elam’s claims of innocence.
When initially asked in 2019 to look into Elam’s claims of innocence, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg chose to recuse itself in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest since a member of Ogg’s staff, Vivian King, was initially Elam’s assigned public Defender.
But with the decision by the DA’s office to take on the case, Campbell, who has led the charge to bring Elam’s case to local, state and national attention, believes the evidence of Elam’s innocence will speak for itself.
Campbell and her daughter and fellow Honey Brown Hope Foundation member Shar-day Campbell gave an exclusive interview to the Defender on this breaking news.
DEFENDER: What’s the breaking news regarding the Darius Elam case?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: I’m pleased to report that we received a call from DA Kim Ogg’s office indicating that they were un-recusing her office, which means that if actual innocence is found, the case can be dismissed, which is a total blessing because we know where the evidence will lead them. The DA’s office un-recusing itself means that office will do the investigation and, wherever the investigation leads them, they will of course, rule accordingly.
DEFENDER: Why do you think they recused themselves, and what do you think helped to change their mind?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: Number one, I spoke with Vivian King who was one of Darius Elam’s former public defenders on that case. She indicated to me, because this is the reason why the DA had recused herself initially, that she wasn’t really involved in Darius’ case. She had minimum involvement, just requesting the DNA testing, which was denied. She explained that to DA Ogg and Judge Mendoza. And, from there, I emailed DA Ogg and asked why did they recuse the office when King had explained that she had minimum involvement. That’s standard procedure for any public defender, when [the DA’s Office] gets a request across their desk for DNA testing, to do just what’s requested without doing an investigation into the case or anything else.
I wanted to understand how that request for DNA testing led to the DA office recusing itself. When I asked her that, and I asked her in reference to the special prosecutor who has been appointed as judge, that means she has filed a motion and the motion has been granted for her to be removed off Darius’ case. So, will a special prosecutor, another special prosecutor be appointed? What is the status in reference to the special prosecutor on the case?
DEFENDER: Why is that a big deal? Why is that an issue, who’s going to be the special prosecutor?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: That is a major deal in terms of who is going to be the special prosecutor, because we want someone that is really doing a deep dive for the truth and for justice. And we do believe that DA Ogg will do a deep dive in terms of getting to the truth and serving justice. So, you want to be very conscious of who is the special prosecutor on a particular case. That is very important, because if they actually are a team of justice seekers then you can rely on them serving justice more so than denying justice.
DEFENDER: Did DA Ogg’s office say why they are now un-recusing themselves from this case?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: Well, I can’t speak to what changed their minds. I can only say that I contacted them and asked specifically why; I wanted an explanation why they recused themselves in the first place when Vivian King, the public defender who is also a staff member of DA Ogg’s office, when she’s specifically saying she didn’t have any involvement in the case. So, there was no reason really to recuse themselves from the case initially.
DEFENDER: With this un-recusal, what is next for the Darius Elam case?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: Right now, we are in the hands of the DA’s office, and seeing where this post-conviction investigation leads the DA. The name of the person who is in charge, Josh Reiss, he’s the chief of the Post-Conviction Writ Division of the DA’s office. He’s the same Assistant DA who handled the former HPD officer Gerald Goines case. And this is very significant. It gives us hope that a thorough investigation will be done and justice will prevail, because the office did an outstanding job in seeking the truth in that case. So we are hopeful for Darius’ case, as well. We’ve just got to be ready for whatever comes up with the investigation.
DEFENDER: Shar-day Campbell, what are your thoughts on this breaking news?
SHAR-DAY CAMPBELL: When I think about what is happening in this case, all of this points back to strategy and advocacy. What our founder and executive director of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation, Tammie Lang Campbell, has been doing is exposing gaps in this case. She has been working on the District Attorney’s office. She started there in 2019 saying, “There has to be something this office can do around this case.” And, when she found that the office had recused themselves, it just wasn’t adding up. It would’ve made sense for Vivian King not to be involved [in the Elam investigation], because of a conflict of interest. But to recuse the entire office just wasn’t adding up. And it put Darius in a position where the DA couldn’t decide to not continue to pursue this.
So, it left us having to work outside of that option, which led to other stones that the founder and executive director, Tammie Lang Campbell, unturned, which was going to the Houston Police Department to request a post-conviction investigation, which resurfaced one of the original jailhouse informants, and led to him recanting his statement, which is the hearing that we’re waiting on in June. So, we have two things going on. We have a pending hearing. There’s not a date. We just know it’s scheduled for June. But if the DA’s office decides not to pursue this, that hearing will not be necessary. So, we have two things that we are waiting on, but this, this is strategy. So often, advocacy looks one-sided. It looks more like agitation. People have to understand the difference between agitation and advocacy.
DEFENDER: What the difference between the two?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: They both have a place, but advocacy is strategy. Advocacy is poking holes, looking at the key players. It’s seeing where those gaps are. It’s partnering with the media to expose those gaps. I just want the community to know that advocacy still matters. Advocacy works. And what you see so often is more so calling a thing a thing (agitation, protesting). But when you call a thing a thing, it’s time to do the thing, which is work. And that’s what the Honey Brown Hope Foundation has been doing for the past two years. And we are hopeful that the truth still matters. That Darius can walk out of there based on the truth. And it doesn’t take a lot to see that he should not be in there. We are expecting a full exoneration. That’s what his family is hoping for, and that is what he is hoping for, for his name to be cleared.
DEFENDER: What is the ruling you’re hoping the DA’s office makes, and if you get the ruling you want, does that mean that Darius Elam is freed immediately, or what?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: We want the public to know the truth. Regarding the DA’s office, we want the DA’s office to look at the evidence, follow the evidence. And when that evidence is clear that Darius is innocent, which we have already done that deep dive and see, that he will be exonerated, and that this June hearing (regarding the jailhouse informant’s recanted testimony) would not even be necessary. So, if the DA’s office dismisses this case, this case is over. That means that Darius will be free and up out of prison. There won’t be a hearing. There won’t be a trial. It will be over.
DEFENDER: What specifically is the June hearing about?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: That hearing, specifically, is about the recanted statement of the informant, as well as evidence that wasn’t provided by the lower court to the higher court, that they’re requesting to also look at the evidence and follow the evidence. But since the DA’s office has gone in and un-recused themselves, they are in control of this case.
DEFENDER: Anything else to add?
TAMMIE LANG CAMPBELL: The paperwork for them to un-recuse themselves should be done this week. But, we already have the confirmation from the DA’s office that they have already un-recused the office and the post-conviction investigation has begun. And Josh Reiss reemphasized that Vivian King will not be involved in this post-conviction investigation in any way. She will be barred from that. So, they are still making sure in terms of ethics and integrity that they are following the rules and the guidelines and making sure there’s no kind conflict whatsoever.
*NOTE: As of the publication of this article, The Defender Network has not received a statement from District Attorney Kim Ogg or attorney Josh Reiss regarding the Darius Elam case.