A Broken Justice System – Cases in Point – Part 2 – The Case of Courtney Bisbee


From time to time, I become aware of cases that are particularly good examples of the flaws, the problems, the shortcomings, the failures, and the actual injustices of our so-called justice system (that I have been writing about here for the last 3 1/2 years). This is Part 2 of what is intended to be a continuing series highlighting these cases. These cases have been selected as representative and demonstrative examples, but be aware they are just the “tip of the iceberg.” This kind of stuff is happening every day in every state. You can see Part 1 here.

[Note: To the best of my knowledge, everything in this article is a matter of public record. If it can be shown that there are any misstatements, I will immediately post a retraction and an apology. This article has been reviewed and approved for posting by both Courtney Bisbee and her family.]


“Part 2” is the case of Courtney Bisbee in Arizona. Courtney Bisbee is a clearly innocent woman who was wrongfully convicted of improperly “touching” a male adolescent. There is compelling, documented evidence of Courtney’s innocence, but she continues to be incarcerated in Perryville prison in Arizona, where she has been for the last ten years. I’ve been studying this case for two years, and it is a “perfect storm” of what is broken and wrong with the justice system. At the end of the article, I’ll enumerate at least some reasons for this, and the list is long. Let me also comment that this is an overview of the case. The more deeply one digs into the details of this case, the murkier, the dirtier, and the more putrid it gets. We just don’t have the time or the space to cover all of that here., but I can say that, in general, it relates to the state of the justice system in both Arizona and Maricopa County. This is the kind of horror story that the average citizen would say “can’t happen here,” but it does.

Stephen Lemons, writing for the Phoenix New Times in 2008, wrote a comprehensive and detailed summary of Courtney’s case. See that story by Stephen Lemons here. If you have even a casual interest in the case, I suggest you read the article. Here’s an “abbreviated” version of the case:

Courtney Bisbee was raised in Michigan in a traditional family that worked hard, played by the rules, and was living the American dream; and had never had any exposure to the justice system. In 2004, she was a successful single mom of a 4 1/2 year old daughter, living and working in Scottsdale, AZ, and life was grand. She had begun a new job as a high school nurse, while completing the final weeks of her master’s degree. A compassionate and caring person, she was even tutoring some troubled teens, and therein begin the problems, because two of these troubled teens had an even more troubled non-custodial mother, with a prior criminal record.

To understand the details of the alleged incident, I refer you to the Lemons article. But basically what happened was that the non-custodial mother of two of the teens Courtney had been mentoring learned, by accident, that the boys were secretly living with another family while their custodial father was completing work-furlough for DUI. She was irate about this, and after learning that Courtney had been at this family’s house with her two sons and several other teens, cooked up a plot to sue for money based upon Courtney’s allegedly “touching” her 13-year-old son inappropriately. She even consulted several attorneys prior to ever taking her son to talk to the police.

After the accusation was made, Courtney was arrested at her home by a SWAT team, without a warrant, and in front of her 4 1/2-year-old daughter. This was after the detective on the case, just prior to her warrantless arrest, had illegally searched Courtney’s home, also without a warrant, confiscating her computer and her camcorder. And because that same detective later lied to the Grand Jury about the case, Courtney was held non-bondable for 66 days, until a second Grand Jury could be convened, which was forced by her initial attorney. Only then was she able to be released on $100,000 bond in this “he said – she said” case.

The only detective on Courtney’s case clearly went into it with the presumption that she was guilty, failing to thoroughly investigate, and concocting his own information to support his preconceived belief. This included not following established rules and protocols for interviewing children (Multidisciplinary Protocol.2003), badgering and coercing Courtney during her lengthy interrogation, lying to the Grand Jury, and lying in court. He also did not investigate one critical, verifiable fact that would have disproved the “victim’s” story (see the Lemons article), and would have, most likely, resulted in Courtney’s acquittal.

From the onset, the prosecution employed a “win at all cost” strategy to obtain a a conviction in Courtney’s “high profile” case. At that time, the Maricopa County Attorney had been conducting a five year “witch hunt” reign of terror, even investigating and charging sitting judges and county supervisors who he believed had “crossed him.” Please see the very revealing American Bar Association Journal article about this prosecutor here. He openly boasted about his 200,000 felony convictions. Also at that time, there was a nationwide moral panic going on about the safety of children in schools, and this was a hot-button political issue for the prosecutor; resulting in a rush to judgement based upon false allegations with no presumption of innocence. Courtney was clearly a victim of all this, and her family has documented multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct during the course of the investigation and trial in the prosecution’s drive to rack up another politically advantageous conviction.

At trial, Courtney was represented by an expensive but inadequate attorney from a well known Phoenix law firm who presented a lackluster defense. This attorney had coerced Courtney into opting for a bench trial. He even failed to call a key defense witness who was there waiting in the court house to testify during the trial, and who had exculpatory testimony to give.  This witness had been present when two of the state’s key witnesses had discussed the fact that the accuser was lying, and that nothing ever happened between Courtney and the alleged victim. In my opinion, this very well could have changed the outcome of the trial. Also in my opinion, this was just boneheaded legal incompetence. (Either that, or it was intentional. I’m sure we’ll never know. Why would he not call this witness?)

In 2006, the bench trial judge, who had been under investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney, ultimately found Courtney guilty, and imposed the mandatory minimum sentence plus one year – 11 years.

In 2007, the state’s key trial witness, the “victim’s” older brother, who was present at the time of the alleged incident, came forward with a sworn affidavit stating that he had lied in court during Courtney’s trial, that his brother had lied in court, and that the whole case was a scam for money perpetrated by their mother. Additionally, the “victim’s” (accuser’s) best friend was deposed by Courtney’s civil attorney, and stated under oath that the victim had confessed to her several times that nothing ever happened between Courtney and him, and that his mother was making him do it for the money. I have read the transcript of the deposition, and it is unequivocal; and what’s particularly striking about this is that the prosecutor was present for the deposition, and has failed to take any action as a result of it. This just makes my brain explode. This affidavit and the deposition have yet to be acknowledged or considered by a court. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has steadfastly ignored all this new evidence. Phoenix Fox News 10 did a story about the older brother’s affidavit recanting his testimony, saying that nothing ever happened, that his brother (the alleged victim) was also lying, and that their mother made them do it so she could sue for money. See that video here. In the video you’ll see Courtney sobbing as she declares her innocence and begs the judge not to separate her from her daughter; and maybe it’s my imagination, but I could swear the judge is actually smirking.

When Courtney was tried, convicted, and sent to prison in 2006, her parents lived in Atlanta. They moved to Phoenix with the idea that it would take them a year or two to get Courtney out of prison. They would ultimately have to sell Courtney’s and their homes, close their successful businesses, and cash in many of their assets to pay for Courtney’s failed defense. Ten years later, they are still in Phoenix, and Courtney is still in prison. Over this time period, they have dealt with a veritable parade of attorneys, none of whom have actually accomplished anything – except for collecting their fees. This was up until the point that her New York City attorneys were retained and filed her Writ of Habeas. Courtney has had an absolutely compelling habeas petition pending before the court for the last 2 1/2 years, but it is yet to be heard. I’ve read the petition, and it’s very well done, and anybody who reads it has to say, “Wait a minute. There’s something very wrong with this conviction.”

And here’s the real kicker. The people in this case who actually committed crimes – false accusation, perjury – get off scot-free. And the prosecutors, the judge, and the lawyers all suffer no consequences whatsoever. And they were all, all, complicit in sending an innocent mother to prison. And on top of all that, Courtney has been separated and alienated from her daughter by an antagonistic ex-husband, and has neither seen nor heard from her daughter in over 10 years.

What I believe this case exemplifies and demonstrates is ….

1)  …. that the pitfalls, minefields, and booby traps in the justice system are both many in number and formidable in size. A criminal prosecution and trial, and all that goes with it, are NOT – to my view – straightforward, logical, transparent processes.

2)  …. the depths of depravity to which humans will sink for money. In this case, the false accusation and lies in court were driven solely by a scam for money, and they sent an innocent person to prison.

3)  …. a bad cop (detective) that ignored all established protocols, and based upon his own mistaken and faulty beliefs about the case, goes for the “kill” (conviction) without regard for exculpatory evidence, proper procedures, or actual justice. In this case, the detective coerced an untrue incriminating statement from Courtney during her interrogation, after she had asked for an attorney. Cops get to decide what they investigate and what they choose to ignore. They will also lie in court with seeming impunity.

4)  …. a justice system, at least in this case, that when confronted with its own egregious error, responds by ignoring, lying, denying, and obfuscating in an effort to preserve the “sanctity” of the broken system. The affidavit by the key prosecution witness recanting his testimony, and saying that nothing ever happened, and that the whole thing was their mother’s scam for money was executed in 2007; and is yet to be considered or acknowledged by any court. Courtney’s convincing and compelling habeas petition has been before the court for 2 1/2 years with no action. There’s just no way to describe this other than “broken.”

5)  …. a judge who “owed one” to the prosecutor, and may have conducted a trial with judicial bias. For example, although the court allowed Courtney to travel to Georgia to be assessed by an expert psychiatrist, his supportive testimony was stricken from the record during Courtney’s trial at the prosecution’s request.

6)  …. an elected prosecutor, who was ultimately disbarred (along with his deputy county attorney), who had conducted a five year “witch hunt” reign of terror; and bragged openly about his 200,000 felony convictions. Courtney was convicted under this administration, and was clearly a victim of this. He had even investigated and charged sitting judges and county supervisors who he felt had “crossed” him. A prosecutor who, according to the Arizona Supreme Court, “outrageously exploited power, flagrantly fostered fear, and disgracefully misused the law.” (Those are the Arizona Supreme Court’s words, not mine.)

7)  …. a very high-priced defense attorney who proved to be actually incompetent and uninvolved, and who persuaded his client to improperly opt for a bench trial, because the judge was “like a brother” to him. Investigation and trial preparation for the case had essentially been turned over to paralegals. He also failed to call a key witness who had flown in from Hawaii for the trial, and who had exculpatory testimony to give. Subsequent to Courtney’s trial and conviction, as the result of a host of lawsuits from clients, the Arizona Bar investigated the firm, and the Arizona Supreme Court suspended the partners; and the firm was forced into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

8) …. an actually innocent person convicted of a sex offense who, after serving time (11 years for “touching.”) will be condemned to life on the sex offender registry.

9) …. if you’re accused of a sex offense, you are presumed guilty, and you’re stuck with having to prove your innocence, which often comes down to just a battle of “he said – she said.”  According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 81% of wrongful convictions for child sex abuse had perjury and false accusation as a contributing cause.

10) …. eyewitness testimony, even though it be false, mistaken, or perjurious, will prevail over any truthful argument or alibi to the contrary in court.

11) …. yet another family that has been financially ruined trying to overcome a wrongful conviction. Courtney’s family estimates their expenses are approaching a million dollars. Courtney and her family have had to sell their homes and assets to pay for the parade of lawyers, private investigators, experts, consultants, and the unending fees and expenses that occur from protracted litigation.

12) …. police deciding who is guilty, and then conducting their investigation with the objective of supporting their preconceived belief, ignoring exculpatory evidence. This is equivalent to vigilante justice.

To say that this has put Courtney’s family through hell would be the ultimate understatement. Courtney’s mother, Camille Tilley, has been tireless in advocating for her daughter’s innocence and freedom. Also, as a consequence of what they’ve had to endure at the hands of the justice system, she is Founder and Director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and a number of other “grassroots” initiatives.

You can see Courtney’s petition on change.org here: http://chn.ge/1DQCcix.

End of story.

35 responses to “A Broken Justice System – Cases in Point – Part 2 – The Case of Courtney Bisbee

  1. Docile Jim Brady – Bend OR 97702

    Investigation and trial preparation for the case had essentially been turned over to paralegals.

    A properly trained paralegal properly supervised by a competent criminal defense attorney can do an excellent job protecting the tights of an accused •
    This case seems to me to be a disgrace •

  2. Extraordinarily well written and researched.
    Compelling and heart wrenching case study on the anatomy of wrongful conviction of Ms. Bisbee and, the shocking number of players that broke every rule of justice to put her and keep her in prison.

  3. Sad and tragic. At least someone is speaking up for her now. May the effort be successful.

  4. So sad!! God bless and good luck

  5. An egregious and flagrant miscarriage of justice – it veritably reeks of police, judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.. She should be released immediately.

  6. This is why America is in decay. What a tragedy to inflict such harsh punishment on someone. Cold and callous behavior coupled with an indifferent “bubba” mentality of a immoral conspiring clique is very threatening to everyone. This is very sad. How dare these sorry asses target her!

  7. Reblogged this on Bipolar For Life and commented:
    This case makes me shudder for more than one reason.

    In 2005 I was living in a religious community in Seattle. Because I was an older woman, and a pediatrician, I was presumed to be the “grandmother type,” although I am the opposite. I am not in the least “touchy-feely.” I enjoy children, but as patients, not as anything else. There was this one lady in the community who kept after me to babysit during services, and I kept saying no, and she kept badgering me, so finally one day I said fine, I’ll play the banjo for the kids but I won’t take care of them. Somebody else has to be there to take care of the little beasts. So that’s what I did.

    Wouldn’t you know, a few days later there’s a knock on my door, and who is there but one of the religious leaders and a woman, a mother of one of the children, and she’s accusing me of molesting her kid. I about died, and told them that I had had nothing to do with her brat, that she just wanted money because she thinks I’m a rich doctor, that I did nothing but play the banjo for the kids, and there were three older teenagers there to prove it. Very fortunately, the religious leader was embarrassed by this woman’s clearly false accusation and lead her away in disgrace. I shut the door shaking, realizing things could have gone a very different way and it could have been the police at the door instead. I never, never, never have agreed to play babysitter in any capacity again. It’s too easy for predators to descend like vultures on someone they think they can squeeze money out of. The case below is tragic. Courtney’s big mistake is that she went to someone’s house. Whether or not there was anything improper going on, and I know I will be smacked for saying this–in this day and time, anyone who takes their professional calling into a setting where there are no other responsible adults on site is at risk for being accused of wrongdoing. Regardless of the altruistic intentions a person may have, going to a place where the only other people are children, even if invited by the children’s parents, is no longer a safe thing to do. Very sad, but very true, and very dangerous. Don’t do it. I lived in fear of another kind of knock on my door for years, just because I gave in to another adult’s nagging and played the banjo for some toddlers for half an hour.

  8. Whoever, for a minute, cannot believe law enforcement acts this way frequently needs read my book: How to Abolish Child Sexual Abuse – Begin by asking: Is that a sexual predator hiding behind that badge?
    This book looks at the legal system, from judges, prosecutors, prison guards, highway patrol officers etc who have been charged and convicted of sexual abuse of minors or who possessed child pornography. It answers the questions: who molests children, how and why, where and when. Perhaps the prosecutor in this case was pointing the finger of blame at an innocent person because he has dark secrets in his closet.

  9. Omg this is absolutely positively heart breaking. Thank you for sharing Courtney’s story.

  10. colleen doyle buden

    Outside of the minors, all players names should be given. Its hard to read because of this.

    Its public information.

    • Colleen,
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your position.
      Not using names was absolutely, positively on purpose. This is because I, as the author, wanted to limit exposure to slander and libel lawsuits.
      In this litigious society, you just never know.
      Phil Locke

  11. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee Redux | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  12. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee | Wrongly Convicted Group Website

  13. Thanks for this article. It’s a timely reminder of just how broken the justice system currently is, and the need for reform.

  14. I would like to say that the writer of this article has everything correct, I cannot say this though. As for the story, I make no statements as to its accuracy concerning courtney and the people who put her in prison.
    Let me first give you a run down of my background. I was in my late 20’s when I received a 64 month sentence for 7 grams of marijuana. I had received an appellate attorney who seemed pretty good, turned out to be pretty bad once you peeled back the layers. Well, I started to learn the law on my own and after a short couple of years I realized that I had been sentenced in violation of the double jeopardy clause, filed a post conviction motion and 6 months later, while going through my prison file I found a transcript of the hearing on that motion, the judge and D.A. present and without me, changed the wording in an attempt to cure the double jeopardy, with 30 days to appeal, my time had long lapsed. From time to time I would help other inmates and even some officers with legal issues and I was pretty dam good too. Upon my release on parole I had to see my agent, as does everyone, she went over my rules and one of them was that I could not practice law, her supervisor asked her why that was one of my rules, to which she replied, “John was a very good jailhouse lawyer.” I did not take a liking to being called that and let her know it. In any event I did get a law degree because my attorney friend pursuaded me to, saying that I was the best he’d ever seen as a non-attorney and to get off my dead ass and get a degree, so I did.
    Back to the case in point, I helped a gentleman who was doing his 10th year on a 9 year sentence, yeah..true. I filed a writ of habeas corpus….two weeks later, he says, “Hey John, have not heard on the writ.” After a brief conversation, I told him to meet me outside after dinner. After dinner I met him, went over a packet of filings with him and gave him written instructions on mailing them, and we parted. The following day I ran into some of the guys that stayed in his dorm and they told me he went to the hole on 5 major tickets but that he did mail the papers I gave him. I thought oh well, just another stupid mistake on his part. I had 3 jobs on the inside and all were in the school building, 4 days later I was coming out of the school for lunch and this old fella came running up to me all excited and he said did you hear about so and so, I said yeah ..he is in the hole on 5 majors, he said no, they got an order to release him in an hour and they had him out in 45 flat, he was shaking my hand and saying what a great job I did. So if in 3 weeks I can habeas corpus a guy out and these so called high power new york attorneys can’t get a hearing in 2 1/2 years..tells me that they are either milking for money or just plain stupid…..but if you want a hearing on Courtney’s petition I can make that happen in less than a week. By the way…this case I talked about was just one of many, so I am proven by more than one instance. I also lived a time in Pheonix and I witnessed the cops doing some awful things, Courtney’s story does not surprise me. You want help….jfbausch@yahoo.com…..send me a note…..I will help…..no charge….ever.

  15. This situation makes my guts churn. Ms. Bisbee, and Ms. Tilley I pray for justice to be done. It is so hard to get anyone to pay attention, let alone fight for what they know to be right. Emotional and financial bankruptcy is their goal. Conviction -regardless of guilt or innocence-is what they are after, and to hell with justice.

  16. Courtney is an amazing, intelligent, and compassionate woman who has been greatly wronged in the Arizona justice system. I am glad that a federal judge, David Dunkin, has seen the merits of her case and has approved a two day evidentiary hearing in March, even though the State of Arizona continues to fight it so the evidence of her innocence is not presented fairly. We have hope that it will move forward in the courts and that she will be completely exonerated of a crime that never happened.

  17. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee Granted Evidentiary Hearing ! | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  18. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee Evidentiary Hearing Vacated | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  19. I, myself, had fallen victim to Maricopa County’s “injustice system”. NOTHING and I mean NOTHING anyone can tell me about the courts, jails, prisons, prosecutors, judges, payoffs, deals, probation officers, parole officers, bribes, employees of the system, Joe Arpaio, his “Deputies” and Officers or anything else related to our legal system will make me gasp for breath or whack my head with a “V-8” moment!! Corruption is rampant in Arizona. I call it “the scam state”. The things they get away with….the cover ups……the lies…..the “promises”……the favors…..the deals…….it’s worse than the South !!! I would grow old telling you story….after story…after story, but I’m already 53 so I don’t have that kind of free time on my hands. The Mormons are what have corrupted our system. The church practically owns the Judges in Mesa and Gilbert, AZ alone…..and there’s plenty more towns just like them!! The Debra Mike case screams volumes of our corruption here. I’m pulling for Courtney. I think it also wouldnt hurt her or her family one tiny bit to contact John Bausch……sounds to me like he knows exactly what hes doing (please, dont pass judgement because he is a former inmate). Read his comment to this story. The entire family will be in my prayers.

    • Wow. You really understand the county and state you live in! Your comment is not only courageous, but a great public service, to the uninformed. Slashing education and increasing the private prison beds by the thousands each and every year should serve as a warning of what the state government values, and it’s not its people!

      Attend the state legislature hearings to witness the prosecutor-lobbyists who come en masse (paid by the taxpayers), to fight against the peoples’ rights. Usurping more and more power and taxpayers’ $$$’s. Witness the arrogance and indifference in their unprofessional demeanor, laughing and joking around as serious bills are being presented. Mocking attitude and arrogance prevails among their crony-legislators, as well. The taxpayers are being used as their piggy-bank-for-greater-power.

      Attend some courtroom hearings to witness who holds the power in the courtroom in a state with draconian mandatory minimum sentencing and defacto-life sentences for the non-violent. Not to mention the professions who are under the state Attorney’s Office where their careers can be blown away in a heartbeat, particularly if one is a whistleblower. Convictions at all cost, with no thought given to the lives of men, women and children and their families who have been destroyed, like they were nothing more than garbage. Shameful.

      Wake up folks! If you think this is not about you, think again.

    • Oh my goodness , someone else has figured out the Mormons have ruined the state of AZ! Not only the judges in Mesa or Gilbert but at the administrative law court. When are people going to look at the ‘religion’ before they vote!! The mormons are savages and will convict someone to death row to stick together, they already have !!! brainwashed bullies.

  20. There is little in Az that remains just for its people. The Bisbee case as well as others truly defines what goes on in Az. and it remains a state to avoid at all costs.

  21. If all of these mouthpieces in the phony innocence movement were held to the same standards as those they so sanctimoniously condemn, we would soon see they are considerably more corrupt than the system they criticize. I’ll take the police and prosecutors. And you’re welcome to the child killers and child molesters of which you’re so fond.

  22. “LAWSUIT HELL ” Newsweek December 15, 2003 – the 2004 Presidential campaign cycle “moral panic” of the day! A cover story, 11 page special report, all should read. A roadmap to hell, accuser facing nothing more than a misdemeanor for false allegations. Thousands of innocent lives destroyed since.

    Top DA/Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and “Lisa Aubuchon Wanted “Hundreds” (thousands) of Teens Interviewed ..”

  23. Scary, scary, scary, scary, scary. My jaw hads dropped at least 10 times while reading this. This could happen to anybody! !! Eleven YEARS for ‘touching’. This is so scary, my heart is beating a bit quickly i think. The prosecutor is evil or something. What a total mess. Please don’t give up, she needs you badly. God bless your kind heart for helping this poor woman. God bless you. How could this happen? It’s just so scary what the legal system has done to her!!!

  24. Lynda Milligan

    Please someone contact the President!!! He will help her!!!

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  27. Barbara Buchanan

    This is so wrong. Poor Courtney and her family. There are a percentage of investigators that just want to close a case whether they have the right person or not. Really annoys Mr. I have another case of such injustice and that is with David Thorne. Start getting it right beyond all reasonable doubt 100% of the time America. A handful of you Detectives five a bad name to the many brilliant investigators in your country.

  28. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee – Released . . . But Not Free. | Wrongful Convictions Blog

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  30. Pingback: Courtney Bisbee Out after 11 Years for False Allegation | False Allegations Awareness

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