Innocence Commission: Saving Lives, Under Fire, Part 4 - Sparrow Law Firm

We are continuing our series about the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. So far, we have covered current law and proposed legislation, as well as part of one man’s struggle to prove his innocence. Critics of the commission say the agency is supposed to handle special cases, rather than cases that “have fallen through the cracks.”

This man, who has been serving a sentence for a murder he did not commit, is proof that the commission is a powerful ally for people like him — people whose cases have fallen through the cracks.

After years of trying to get the attention of the court or the district attorney’s office, the man’s claim made it to the Innocence Commission. In their investigation, they discovered evidence in the district attorney’s files that had never been turned over to the defense. The defense counsel had urged his client to plead guilty to the murder charge, in part because there was very little evidence to prove the man was not involved.

The commission also found evidence that had emerged after the man’s plea. For example, a prison inmate contacted a federal agent in 2003, three years after the murder. The inmate told the agent he had participated in the robbery that had ended in the victim’s death. He named two other men as well.

The agent sent his report of the call to the sheriff’s office and the district attorney. It went unanswered. The caller had been a suspect, but he’d been ruled out by the DA — one of his accomplices was in jail at the time of the murder.

According to the commission’s investigation, the accomplice was in jail — on the weekends. The murder occurred on a Monday.

We’ll finish this up in our next post.

Source: News & Observer, “Prosecutors would limit access to N.C. innocence panel,” Mandy Locke, 05/08/2011