As coordinator of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, please allow me to straighten out a few misnomers. A legal petition for the Governor to issue individual pardons of actual innocence to ALL of the Wilmington Ten was submitted May 17th of this year to the Governor's Office of Executive Clemency by two attorneys for the pardon project. Those attorneys met with the governor's clemency staff two months ago to answer any legal questions they had about the case. Those questions were answered and documentation provided as requested.
Some say the Wilmington Ten were "never proven" innocent. Well, they were never "proven" guilty either, even though they were all convicted, and sentenced to 282 years in prison. To this day, there isn't a shred of concrete evidence proving that any of The Ten committed any of the crimes they were charged with (they weren't tried on all of the charges they faced, charges, technically, that are still pending 40 years later if the state wanted to go forward). NO guns, NO bullets, NO physical evidence of ANY sort proving that ANY member of the Wilmington Ten had ANYTHING to do with the firebombing of Mike's Grocery Store, or the sniper fire on public safety personnel attending to the blaze.
You say there's been no proof that they didn't do it. Well, let's see now...Willie Earl Vereen and James McKoy were musicians playing a gig in Leland the night of Feb. 6th, 1971, the night of the firebombing. The late Connie Tindall was celebrating his birthday at a birthday party at a club clear across town. Anne Shepard, the white female was a woman of size who couldn't possibly escape notice if she were involved in the firebombing, and there's no proof she even knew how to fire a rifle, let alone a gun. And Ben Chavis was at Gregory Congregational Church that evening, working with the white pastor of that church at that time, Rev. Eugene Templeton, wetting wash cloths and towels in case the National Guard had stormed the church with tear gas so they could be put over everyone's faces.
So here's the problem. Prosecutor Jay Stroud KNOWS he has no case, so he "employs" three black convicted felons to perjure themselves on the stand as "witnesses," because without them, he has NOTHING! He takes care of them - a beach cottage, a woman, a mini-bike - it's all in their letters and the US Fourth Circuit of Appeals decision. Stroud also plots a mistrial when he ended up with a jury of ten blacks and two whites for the first trial, and indeed, gets "sick" to cause one. In jury selection, the prosecutor writes down that he should "Stay away from black men," and that he's looking for "KKK and Uncle Tom-type" jurors. And he gets a judge, Martin, who broke so many rules to ensure the Wilmington Ten were convicted, that even the 4th Circuit Court made note of his behavior.
So when folks say that the Wilmington Ten's convictions were overturned on a "technicality," they actually don't understand what they're talking about.
The Federal Appellate Court overturned the convictions because, after studying the court record for the second trial, it determined not only wasn't there ANY credible evidence on which to convict, but that the prosecutor (Stroud) hid exculpatory evidence that proved his own witnesses were lying through their collective teeth, especially since he was paying them, and they later went before a judge and admitted they had committed perjury.
Let me put this another way - IF STROUD HAD EVIDENCE BEYOND THREE LYING WITNESSES, THEN WHERE WAS IT?
The 4th Circuit, in its decision to overturn, told the state of NC to either dismiss all charges against the Wilmington Ten, or retry them if they have any evidence at all.
THE STATE CHOSE NOT TO DO ANYTHING FOR THE PAST FORTY YEARS. WHY, IF IT HAS REAL EVIDENCE?
And that's why, after Gov. Hunt refused to pardon (because at the time, the 4th Circuit hadn't ruled yet), he did commute the W-Ten's sentences.
No other governor since then was ever asked to pardon the Ten.
In 2011, the National Newspaper Publishers Association voted to seek pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten. They appointed me, at the suggestion of the Wilmington Journal, to coordinate the effort. I've researched this case like the back of my hand. I've interviewed many, and I've read almost everything that is credible about this case. In my considered opinion, pardons of innocence, especially after forty years, is more than justified. Yes, there were shootings, incidents of arson and violence during that faithful time in 1971. No argument. But WHERE is the solid evidence proving that any of the Ten had a hand in ANY of it? And if prosecutor Stroud had evidence, then why did he have to hire three lying witnesses to prove his case?
In this country, we pride ourselves with having the best criminal justice system in the world. But when we prosecute people with "evidence" we have to make up, we do that system, our state and our nation, a gross disservice.
This effort is NOT about money. We have been working too, too hard to uncover the truth about how the Wilmington Ten were framed, and garnering the support that we have from across the nation. Clearing the names and reputations of the Ten has been our ONLY concern and goal. If we achieve it, the attorneys will deal with what's next, not us.
JUSTICE...that's what burns in our hearts about this case. And the measure for REAL justice is being able to accept the unvarnished truth about the framing and criminal justice persecution of the Wilmington Ten.
So, in closing, I'm sure many of you don't like, or even believe any of what i've written. But really ask yourselves...is it because you feel you HAVE TO believe the Wilmington Ten are guilty? And if the answer is "Yes," then ask yourself "Why?"
If you're honest with yourself, you may not like the answer!
I pray that ALL of you and your families have a blessed Christmas holiday season!
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