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Gov. Perdue issues pardon of innocence for Wilmington 10

NEW
HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Members of the Wilmington 10 Pardon for Innocence
Project gathered at a press conference only hours after outgoing Governor
Beverly Perdue signed off on the innocence of nine men and a woman.

Monday’s gathering at
Shiloh Baptist Ministry Church in Wilmington included friends and family of the
Wilmington 10, with two of the six living members there as well.

Marvin
Patrick and Willie Earl Vereen said they would thank Perdue had she been in the
room. The state no longer considers the ten people convicted of arson and
conspiracy 40 years ago to be guilty, but it does not change the affect the
conviction had on their lives.

“A
job didn’t last me six months,” said Patrick. “It’s been trying times.”

Those
tough times were felt by family members as well. Ophelia Tindall Dixon, sister
of the late Connie Tindall, said Monday that she was harassed for simply being
related to a member of the Wilmington 10.

“Folks
would follow me when I left the house, they would corner me,” she said.

The
stories may be painful to tell, but those in the church Monday afternoon
reveled in the public knowing what they’ve believed all along – the Wilmington
10 is innocent.

Recently, claims of jury
tampering and racial discrimination resulted in the North Carolina NAACP revealing
what it called evidence that the district attorney at the time was trying
to select jurors who were KKK members.

Current
District Attorney Ben David released a statement Monday. It reads, in part, as
follows:

As prosecutors, the truth is our only
client. For guilty defendants, the truth hurts. For the innocent, the truth
will set them free. Sometimes the truth remains elusive. Where, as here, the
process that was in place to search for the truth is determined to be so fundamentally
flawed that we cannot know it, the verdict cannot stand the test of time. My
job, as District Attorney, is to make sure that this does not happen again.”

David’s statement included a
reminder that none of the current employees with the DA’s office were on staff
when the Wilmington 10 case first went to trial.

Governor
Perdue’s complete statement on Monday’s pardon reads as follows:

“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.

Copyright 2012 WECT.
All rights reserved.

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