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Perdue signs pardons of innocence for Wilmington 10

Posted December 31, 2012

— Gov. Beverly Perdue signed pardons of innocence Monday for the Wilmington 10, the nine men and one woman wrongly convicted more than 40 years ago in the fire-bombing of a grocery store after police shot a black teenager.

Perdue could have done nothing or issued one of two kinds of pardons – one of innocence or one of forgiveness, which is for people guilty of a crime.

"I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington 10, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained," Perdue said in a statement.

Four of the Wilmington 10 are now dead, and several surviving members are in poor health. They cried tears of joy and were overcome with emotion Monday upon learning that the state had finally cleared their names.

"These pardons help remove a stain from the nation, help to heal the breach of the world," State NAACP President Rev. William Barber said. "It took too long, but thank God it has come."

"It's not so much (a decision) that will vindicate members of the Wilmington 10, but says a lot about vindicating North Carolina," said Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University who represented the activists at their 1972 trial. "(Perdue) has restored in the minds of a lot of people there is a semblance of justice here."

Three key witnesses in the case recanted their testimony, and all 10 people were freed in 1978 when then-Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their sentences. Two years later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., threw out the convictions, saying perjury and prosecutorial misconduct were factors in the verdicts.

"The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt – not based on race or other forms of prejudice. That did not happen here," Perdue said. "Instead, these convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer."

Supporters say Wilmington 10 pardons remove stain from NC

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP recently said newly discovered notes by the prosecutor in the Wilmington 10 case show he engaged in racial profiling to select a jury that would be more favorable for a conviction.

Notes taken by former Pender County prosecutor Jay Stroud show he lied to a judge to get a mistrial so he could pick another jury in the case, the NAACP charged. He then used a race-based strategy during jury selection.

"This is a place where some healing and mending can occur, where the wrong is pretty clear and the right is pretty obvious, and we can say we made a mistake and we are not going to do that anymore," said Tim Tyson, a Duke University history professor who helped find Stroud's notes.

The Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project – an outreach effort of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Wilmington Journal newspaper – released a statement Monday, saying it is "very proud of North Carolina today, and extraordinarily grateful to our governor."

Cash Michaels, a Raleigh journalist and filmmaker who coordinated a petition drive seeking the pardons, said Perdue helped the activists regain their dignity.

"What it does now, it sets a standard. It now tells us what to look for," Michaels said. "It empowers us now to demand more from our criminal justice system."

115 Comments

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  • DredScott Jan 3, 12:00 p.m.

    Play the race card and the world is your oyster. Today there is no justice if you are not a person of color. superman

    As it was during Jim Crow, there was no justice if you were a person of color.

  • superman Jan 3, 9:56 a.m.

    Play the race card and the world is your oyster. Today there is no justice if you are not a person of color.

  • bluford2 Jan 2, 7:20 p.m.

    Some of these comments reveal so much about the psyche of the people who make them. If one wishes to be reminded of hooded horsemen, just visit any article or story regarding a tempting topic they can't resist and they will come. Instead of hoods, they hide behind an anonymous username.

    Thanks Gov. Purdue.

    Very sad and embarrassing.

  • Lamborghini Mercy Jan 2, 3:38 p.m.

    10 lives flipped upside down from a wrong conviction. Just remember situations like this the next time you hear someone say "that's the past", "times changed", or "you shouldn't feel affected anymore". The fact of matter is these people were torn from their families, and stripped of their freedoms for most of their lives, up until now 2013. We've made progress, but surely this clearly indicates that lives are still affected even today. I can only wish them all the best and to reunite with their remaining family.

  • Raleigh Boys Jan 2, 3:14 p.m.

    Why does the pardon website http://www.doc.state.nc.us/clemency/pardons.htm
    show them as pending still? Is this website even correct?

  • dollibug Jan 2, 2:10 p.m.

    It is sad when people are not provided good representation in court....I am sure here are some good attorneys somewhere....and then there are not too good attorneys (the majority)....it is sad when people's US Constitutional Rights are VIOLATED....and they can NOT find or afford a good attorney....but this happens and it happens a lot....a person is supposed to be *INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY*....but this does not always happen....these people's conviction was overturned years ago....only half of the job was completed....Bev did not decide whether or not to overturn the conviction....

  • Grand Union Jan 2, 1:38 p.m.

    "Once again Bev has failed the residents of NC. They committed a crime; that can't be changed nor can their guilt."

    What crime would that be? Being Black in the 1970s?

  • Grand Union Jan 2, 1:36 p.m.

    "This is obviously about the money - thanks, Bev, for another stupid decision - opening the State to being sued."

    Would you feel the same if you had been sent to jail for something you had not done? I doubt it. Did your Mom not tell you that you should do the right thing, not just the easy thing?

  • Grand Union Jan 2, 1:35 p.m.

    "This doesn't feel right, unfortunately. Ok, the convictions were tainted and overturned. Fine. But, did they actually commit the crimes? Do we know they didn't commit these crimes? Why is she declaring them innocent simply based on the fact that their convictions were overturned? Everything I've read has said the convictions were tainted and overturned. Nothing I've read has shown they were guilty or innocent."

    You seem to be unaware of the basic principle of US law. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That their convictions were overturned so quickly seems to indicate that everyone knew at the time that they were not guilty and were simply scapegoats. Remember it was not long before this Racist LEOs had killed Civil rights workers in the South....

  • Grand Union Jan 2, 1:28 p.m.

    "And no justice ...still...for the victims..."

    They spent years in jail after being wrongly convicted....that makes them victims as well. And worse they were victims of the State breaking one of the Cardinal rules - The Rule of Law.

    This should have happened years ago.

    "Thank God we've moved on from such savagery and are more civilized in my lifetime."

    From some of the posts here it would appear some are still a long way from being civilized.

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