1976 murder conviction goes before NC Innocence Commission
Posted June 2
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is hearing this week the case of a Durham man convicted more than 30 years ago of killing a Granville County convenience store clerk.
Willie Henderson Womble, 60, was sentenced in 1976 to 80 years in prison for the Nov. 18, 1975, death of Roy Brent Bullock, who was shot three times during a robbery in Butner.
Monday's hearing was prompted after Womble's co-defendant, Joseph Perry, wrote a letter to the Innocence Commission – a state-run agency that investigates post-conviction claims of innocence – saying Womble was not involved in the crime.
Witnesses told the Innocence Commission that Womble signed a confession, written by investigators, out of fear, thinking that he otherwise might face the death penalty. He later told police in as many as eight other interviews, however, that he had nothing to do with Bullock's death.
Womble is expected to testify Tuesday.
Perry, who was also convicted of first-degree murder, testified Monday that he decided to come forward only because the man he says was actually with him during the crime has died.
It was Albert Willis – who passed away in December 2012 – not Womble who was with Perry driving around looking for places to rob when they decided on Bullock's store.
Perry said he shot Bullock twice in the mouth and once in the chest after the clerk allegedly made a racial remark during the robbery.
He never told on Willis, he said, because they two had "a code."
"It was our pact during that time. If I got caught, I would do the time," Perry said. "I would never implicate him."
The 60-year-old Perry said he knew of Womble only from their neighborhood, that he thought he was "slow" and that he could not figure out why Womble would insert himself into the case.
"It’s time to the right thing. I don’t have to implicate Al, because Al is passed." Perry said. "Now mind you, I still don't particularly care about (Womble), but I do care about doing the right thing."
If the majority of the eight-member panel of the Innocence Commission panel agrees that Womble's case has merit, it will go on to a special three-judge panel for judicial review.
Since the Innocence Commission began in 2007, it has received more than 1,600 claims that have resulted in four people, including Greg Taylor in 2010 and Willie Grimes in 2012, being exonerated for crimes.
Taylor spent nearly 17 years in prison for the 1991 beating death of a Raleigh woman, but his sentence was vacated after a judicial panel found that a State Bureau of Investigation agent failed to report a negative blood test in the case.
Grimes was freed after serving 24 years in prison on a rape conviction involving a Hickory woman in 1987. In that case, two fingerprints found at the home where the rape happened were linked to another man, who has been charged with several rapes during the 1970s.