This is the last post in our series about the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. The state agency was established to help felons prove their factual innocence. The association representing the state’s district attorneys has lobbied for changes to the way the commission operates. The proposed changes, now before the General Assembly, would move the commission away from taking care of cases that “fall through the cracks.”
The problem, of course, is that there is mounting proof that those are the cases that need the commission the most. One example is the case of a man who pleaded guilty to murder 10 years ago and who has been trying to clear his name ever since — while evidence supporting his claim was lost, ignored or dismissed.
When the defendant finally got the attention of a judge, the judge ordered that DNA samples be taken from a man who had called a federal agent and implicated himself and two others in the murder. The DA’s office ordered the sheriff to pick up the new suspect. The man who called the federal agent was, in fact, sent to the jail for the DNA test. He told the officers there that he wanted to talk to the district attorney.
The detective’s notes show the district attorney never saw him. The suspect sat in jail for nine months, waiting for a test that never happened.
Asked now about this and other mistakes, the district attorney’s office can’t explain what happened. There was no explanation for why some evidence wasn’t turned over to the defense counsel, no explanation for why the SBI analyst’s calls went unanswered, no explanation for how a suspect could sit in jail for nine months without having a DNA test — the very thing he’d been sent to jail for.
This man’s case had simply fallen through the cracks. And, without the work of the Innocence Inquiry Commission, he would not now be over one hurdle — the unanimous vote of the commission to move his case forward for judicial review. He and another man are close not only to being free but also to being completely exonerated. They will have lost those 12 years, but they will be able to start afresh.
Because the Innocence Inquiry Commission would not let them fall through the cracks.
Source: News & Observer, “Prosecutors would limit access to N.C. innocence panel,” Mandy Locke, 05/08/2011