RALEIGH, NC (AP) — Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue has issued pardons to the Wilmington 10, a group wrongly convicted in a notorious Civil Rights-era prosecution.
Perdue issued a pardon of innocence Monday for the nine black men and one white woman sentenced to a combined almost 300 years in prison for the 1971 firebombing of a Wilmington grocery store that occurred after police shot a black teenager. The pardon means the state no longer thinks the group committed a crime.
The three key witnesses in the case later recanted their testimony. Amnesty International and other groups took up the issue, portraying the Wilmington 10 as political prisoners.
NEWS RELEASE FROM THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE:
Gov. Bev Perdue today signed a Pardon of Innocence for the Wilmington 10 and issued the following statement:
“I have spent a great deal of time over the past seven months reviewing the pardon of innocence requests of the persons collectively known as the Wilmington Ten. This topic evokes strong opinions from many North Carolinians as it hearkens back to a very difficult time in our state’s past, a period of racial tensions and violence that represents a dark chapter in North Carolina’s history. These cases generate a great deal of emotion from people who lived through these traumatic events.
In evaluating these petitions for clemency, it is important to separate fact from rumor and innuendo. I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained.
In 1980, a federal appeals court overturned the convictions in a written decision that highlighted the gross improprieties that occurred during the trial. The federal court determined as a matter of law that numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct and other constitutional violations took place. Among other things, the court ruled that with regard to the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness – upon whose credibility the case depended entirely — “the conclusion is inescapable that [he] perjured himself” and that “this fact was bound to be known to the prosecutor . . .” The court also declared that it was undisputed that key documents had repeatedly been withheld from defense lawyers. It also found numerous errors by the trial judge that had the effect of unconstitutionally prejudicing the defendants’ ability to receive a fair trial.
Since the trial ended, the prosecution’s key witness and two supporting witnesses all independently recanted their testimony incriminating the defendants. Furthermore, last month, new evidence was made available to me in the form of handwritten notes from the prosecutor who picked the jury at trial. These notes show with disturbing clarity the dominant role that racism played in jury selection. The notes reveal that certain white jurors believed to be Ku Klux Klan members were described by the prosecutor as “good” and that at least one African American juror was noted to be an “Uncle Tom type.”
This conduct is disgraceful. It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt – not based on race or other forms of prejudice. That did not happen here. Instead, these convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer.
Justice demands that this stain finally be removed. The process in which this case was tried was fundamentally flawed. Therefore, as Governor, I am issuing these pardons of innocence to right this longstanding wrong.”
NEWS RELEASE FROM THE WILMINGTON TEN PARDONS OF INNOCENCE PROJECT:
On behalf of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project – a justice outreach effort of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Wilmington Journal newspaper – we are all very proud of North Carolina today, and extraordinarily grateful to our Governor, Beverly Perdue, for having the tremendous courage and wisdom to grant all members of the Wilmington Ten, pardons of actual innocence.
Thank you Governor!
Gov. Perdue’s historic action today doesn’t remove the past forty years of injustice against ten innocent American citizens – North Carolinians who stood up for equal treatment under the law in our public education system. But it does correct the historical record, that Connie Tindall, Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright, Anne Sheppard, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, and the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, were indeed innocent of all charges falsely assessed to them by a corrupt prosecutor who, to this day, has not answered for what he did.
We sincerely hope that now, at long last, a certain peace can be restored to the shattered lives of the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten, and to the family members Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright, Anne Sheppard and Connie Tindall all of whom are deceased.
And we also hope, and pray, that the state of North Carolina, and the nation, have learned from this great tragedy of racial injustice. If America is to live up to the true meaning of its creed, that all men and women are created equal before the eyes of GOD, then we must fight, and fight hard for the integrity of our criminal justice system.
For if we don’t, then none of us are safe from those who would seek to destroy the fundamental liberties of citizens who work only to make this nation the land of promise and freedom that many before us sacrificed so much for future generations to enjoy.
On behalf of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and the NNPA, thank you to the NAACP, Change.org, and all who assisted us in this vital quest for justice.