Enquirer Herald

Mobley gets his life back

YORK -- The Bibles flipped open to Genesis. A picture of 36 haircut style options for black men hung on the wall. A sign taped to old wood paneling stated, "No profanity, please."

A dozen black hands grasped the Bibles, and six black faces searched the text for meaning. One face was downcast toward the Bible, thoughtful and silent. The face belonged to a man tucked into the corner of the Sunset Park Beauty & Barber Shop in Rock Hill. He is a man of shadow who seeks no bright light.

Antonio Mobley has had enough of the spotlight.

All the other members at the weekly Bible study of a small ministry -- called "Brothers Growing in Christ" -- talked about Cain and Abel, faith and betrayal, life and death. All were asked by group leader Daryl Thompson what they gave up to be Christians, what sacrifices they made to live lives that are meaningful, spiritual and positive. Answers were of music, TV, worries about money.

The quietest man in the corner then spoke. He looked up from his Bible. A 27-year-old man who admits, quietly when asked, that he got another chance at life and is thankful to God. A dozen strangers gave that life back to him after police and prosecutors attempted to take it away.

Antonio Mobley only 10 days before this Bible study was in a courtroom, charged with the murder of a 19-year-old from York named Dawud Chester. He faced up to life in prison if convicted.

The dozen strangers who gave Mobley his life back were jurors. People who in a couple of hours -- the time it takes to change the oil in a Buick, then get coffee -- proclaimed: "Not guilty!"

From that minute, that day, Antonio Mobley had his second chance at life that few men charged with murder get. Freedom to choose.

"I would say friends," Mobley answered in the Bible study. "Let them do what they do. I want to be closer to God."

"Mmm-hmmm," came the chorus from these other men, many of whom have known Mobley since he was a child. They knew him as an excellent student all his life, a whiz at math who graduated from the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg in June 2005. A guy who worked for a big bank in a good job in collections, where he was liked and respected.

"People knew Antonio; he had an excellent reputation at work," said Maurice Worthy, a one-time co-worker at the bank in Fort Mill and part of the Bible study.

But Mobley lost that reputation, lost his freedom, lost his job, when he was arrested.

Antonio Mobley, his parents, and his lead lawyer, Melvin Roberts, said Mobley would agree to be interviewed by The Herald only to talk about his life before his arrest, what he did to better himself while awaiting trial and his future. All declined to talk about the events that led to the murder charge or the court case.

"He needs to get that behind him," Roberts said.

That part of the story already has played out in public. Dawud Chester died from a gunshot wound to the back after a melee on York's California Street in September 2007. The York city police and prosecutors said it was gang violence that had escalated over months. Mobley was charged soon after Chester's death.

Worthy said people at work were baffled.

"'That's not the same guy we know,'" co-workers said of Mobley, according to Worthy.

Silas Mobley, Antonio Mobley's father, defended his son at that time, saying Antonio was never in a gang.

Mobley was fired after his arrest. But local prosecutor Kevin Brackett soon dropped the charges after discovering police had drawn up an arrest warrant that claimed another man was the shooter. That warrant was never signed or served.

Mobley went home. He was unemployed but free.

But the S.C. Attorney General's Office, armed with a new, never before used anti-gang law that allows a state grand jury to investigate cases involving alleged gang activity, became involved. The grand jury indicted Mobley.

Mobley's parents, Silas and Marjorie, put their home up as collateral to pay the bond to get their son out of jail and get the best representation for their son they could.

"We were going to take whatever steps were necessary for our son," Silas Mobley said.

Later, after a hearing before a judge in Columbia, the charges were dismissed again.

Antonio Mobley still was unemployed, yet free again.

Then the state grand jury was brought in by the attorney general's office to investigate the case again, and Antonio Mobley, a college graduate but broke and unemployed, was charged for the third time with the murder of Dawud Chester. He had maintained his innocence from Day 1 and still did.

Yet, Antonio Mobley did not sit at home and moan against the world. "Even when things were darkest, he didn't wallow in self-pity," said Roberts, the lawyer.

Mobley went to work for Roberts, helping with maintenance of rental properties. Mobley enrolled in York Technical College's heating and air conditioning program. A trade would give him options after his corporate job went away, possibly forever. He had worked with a maintenance crew to help pay for college in earlier years. A technical education gave him "a backup."

"You can never have too much education," Mobley said.

Mobley scraped together the money to go to York Tech and put his energy into school and his children. His parents helped with tuition, too. Antonio already had two children, and a third would be born before Christmas 2008.

"I would clean yards, cut grass, whatever," Mobley said. "My parents were great. They believed in me."

Roberts, the lawyer, is a former York mayor who has practiced law for 54 years. He has heard every excuse and dealt with thousands of clients. Roberts said Mobley "is so honest that one time he was 30 minutes late coming back from lunch. He called because he was worried that he didn't earn his money. That he would be stealing from me."

Turned out Mobley was helping his mother that day. He worked an extra 30 minutes instead of taking the money for 30 minutes he did not work, Roberts said.

Mobley went to the Bible study on Monday nights. He went to church. He did the best he could to be a father.

The case finally went to trial the last week of March through the first days of April. That last Monday beforehand, the Bible study finished, and Antonio Mobley said to the other men, "See you next week."

But if he was found guilty, Mobley might never see them again.

Witnesses at trial claimed Mobley was the shooter. Mobley's lawyers, Roberts and the famous Jack Swerling of Columbia, stated flatly Mobley was not the shooter. Swerling and Roberts got the witnesses to admit in court that their stories had changed since grand jury testimony months earlier.

The jury sided with Mobley in the blink of an eye. Jury deliberations in murder trials usually take long hours and can take days. The jury was made up of 11 whites and one black.

"Words can't express how I was feeling," Mobley said of that moment. "It is unexplainable."

The state cannot prosecute Mobley again, Roberts said.

Mobley went home that night, and the family celebrated some. Neighbors came around, and the whole of Rosewood Circle, a little cul-de-sac off California Street not far from where authorities had claimed Mobley was a killer, was filled with tears of joy instead of grief.

"People always believed in me," Mobley said.

Technically, the case is an unsolved crime. Investigators in York will review the case again, York Police Chief Bill Mobley said. But "basically I don't know any other direction we can go."

Antonio Mobley and Chief Bill Mobley are not related.

Prosecutors and police claimed in court -- and several witnesses testified -- that Antonio Mobley was responsible for Chester's death.

"The jurors heard what we presented, and they made their decision," Chief Mobley said. "We feel different."

Chester's family could not be reached.

What remains in York is exactly what was there before the trial. Problems, perceived or otherwise, between groups of young people who are largely black in this section of York south of downtown divided by Congress Street. The "gang problem," allegedly between Cali Boys from California Street and Valley Boys from the other side of Congress Street, remains, Chief Mobley said.

Of more than 100 people who were around the incident when Chester was killed, few came forward to help police, Chief Mobley said.

"Until they decide they will not tolerate it, we can only do so much," he said of what police can do about violence.

Yet, perception of any gang problem in York depends on who is talking. Roberts, Antonio Mobley's lawyer, said the bulk of people police say are in gangs are teens who hang around together, play sports together, yet sometimes argue and fight.

"That doesn't make 'em gangs," Roberts said.

Steve Love, president of the Western York County NAACP, has said since the incident that the picture painted of the area as a haven for gang violence is not accurate. But portrayal by authorities led the public to look at the area and its residents as violent.

"This was an isolated incident," Love said.

The Rev. Dennis Wilson, a longtime NAACP activist in York and former police officer who now is an assistant pastor at St. John's Baptist Church in Sharon outside of York, agreed with Roberts that the problems in York are not gangs. But Wilson also said the time is crucial now for parents and community leaders to try to change any culture that accepts belligerence as decent behavior.

The whole "tragic" affair of one young black man dead, and another on trial for his life before being acquitted, should be a "fresh start" and "wake up call," Wilson said. Wilson said he doesn't know either Chester, who died, or Antonio Mobley, who was tried -- but the community needs to right itself in the wake of senseless violence. The actions of September 2007 that left one young man dead were clearly hasty and posturing on the part of young men, Wilson said, but young men must know that gunshots are not the solution to anything.

"Our children are crying out for guidance," Wilson said.

Wilson organized a summit on the state of the young black male in western York County last summer and is working on another for June.

"Our young males have to know that resolving differences is not done through violence," Wilson said.

The future

So now, Antonio Mobley is a 27-year-old man with three kids, and his only record is a misdemeanor trespass charge from when he was much younger.

He still is unemployed.

Yet, he could run for mayor of York. He could run for president. He can vote and do what any other citizen of the United States can do because he was not convicted of anything in York a couple weeks ago.

The Sunday after his acquittal, Mobley went to church. Monday night, he went to Bible study. He spent time with his children in the evenings. All week, he went to school for his heating and air conditioning. He studied for a test on heat pumps.

"You want good grades, you have to study," Mobley said.

Then, this past Monday, Mobley went to Bible study again. Worthy, Kareem Gore, Kevin Thompson, Daryl Thompson and James Miller exalted in Mobley's freedom and ability to choose his own destiny. But they gave credit to God and talked of how they expect great things from Mobley now that he has the chance -- and he better deliver.

They all talked of how Mobley had put his faith in God, how Mobley was a true man of faith while waiting for trial, and still is. Mobley himself talked about how he wasn't given anything that God didn't think he could bear. He read from the Bible about being a doer and not a hearer. He hopes to minister to young people somehow.

"His potential is unlimited," Kevin Thompson said.

Mobley said he is thankful for his lawyers. He is thankful for his parents. He is thankful for his children and wants to be a good father.

After graduating from York Tech later this year, Mobley said he will go back to what he wanted before the trouble started and seek a master's in business administration.

"Antonio Mobley is an extraordinary man," said Roberts, the lawyer. "He had talents and developed those talents. Then, he hit this stumbling block. But he kept plugging along. And now he can go back to that original destination. He can get his MBA."

Antonio Mobley said he hopes to land back with a financial company eventually. Although he is a serious young man now, through the most serious thing a young man can face, he can smile. He does smile, and laugh. The first smiles and laughs in a long, long time.