We are close to wrapping up a series about the North Carolina Innocence Commission. The agency came to our attention because of a bill pending in the General Assembly that would limit its powers — and, some say, its effectiveness. The parties supporting the changes believe the commission should not be used to handle cases that “fall through the cracks.”
The Raleigh News & Observer illustrated just how mistaken that assumption could be in a recent story about a man who pleaded guilty to murder. He tried to retract his plea almost as soon as he’d made it — appealing to a judge, just as commission critics advise. For upwards of eight years, though, no court and no district attorney would listen.
The commission became involved a little while ago. In their investigation, they uncovered evidence that cast significant doubt on the guilt of the suspect — now a prison inmate — but that never made it to the defense counsel. The commission also found evidence that had been ignored or overlooked or misplaced during the years the defendant was asking to have his case reviewed.
In one of our last posts, we talked about a saliva sample that the SBI lab said didn’t match any of the suspects, including this man we’re talking about. About four years ago, the SBI matched the DNA sample to a felon who had called federal agents and admitted his involvement in the murder.
The SBI analyst called the sheriff’s office. And called. And called. He could interest no one in his findings.
That wasn’t all.
Continued in our next post.
Source: News & Observer, “Prosecutors would limit access to N.C. innocence panel,” Mandy Locke, 05/08/2011