Innocence Commission Case Moves to Judicial Panel

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The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission has decided to send the case of two inmates to a judicial panel in September. The two men have been in prison since they entered guilty pleas to second-degree murder charges related to a home invasion 11 years ago. In April, they appeared before the Innocence Commission panel to convince them that the case deserved review.

We discussed the process followed by the commission in a series of posts this past May. Briefly, an inmate petitions the commission for review, claiming factual innocence based on new evidence. The panel hears the evidence and may conduct its own investigation. There is no prosecutor at that hearing.

If the panel agrees that sufficient evidence exists, the case goes to a three judge panel for adjudication. The prosecution is permitted to argue against the defendants at this hearing. This is the hearing that will take place in September.

The defendants said they pleaded guilty at the urging of their attorneys and family members, believing it was the only way to avoid the death penalty.

Since that time, another man has confessed to the crime. He was convicted on other charges when he told a federal agent that he had been involved with the victim’s death. This man will testify at the hearing next month.

Not only did he confess, he identified two other men who had participated in the botched home invasion. One of those men is currently in prison for robbery. The other died in 2006 as he attempted to elude arrest.

The defendants will present this testimony as well as forensic evidence to the panel. The perpetrators had left behind bandanas and gloves that now will be tested for DNA of the confessed murderer and his companions.

The defendants must prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence. If the panel finds them innocent, they will not receive a pardon; they will be free, though, and they will be allowed to seek compensation for their time in prison.

Source: News & Observer, “Inmate to tell innocence panel about slaying,” Aug. 23, 2011