Local News

Durham man in prison for 1975 murder set free

Posted October 17, 2014
Updated October 18, 2014

— A Durham man who spent nearly 40 years behind bars for murder walked free from a Caswell County prison Friday afternoon, hours after a special judicial board found him factually innocent of the 1975 crime.

"I'm blessed to be out. I'm glad it's over with," said Willie Henderson Womble, reunited with his brother and other family members outside Dan River Work Farm in Yanceyville.

At the age of 22, Womble was convicted in 1976 of first-degree murder for the shooting death of Roy Brent Bullock in Butner. He spent 37 years behind bars before another man came forward last year, saying Womble had nothing to do with the crime.

During a hearing in June, witnesses told the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission – a state-run agency that investigates post-conviction claims of innocence – that Womble was coerced and scared into signing a confession that he was paid $20 to serve as a lookout.

Womble, who was illiterate and had a low IQ, however, maintained his innocence in a number of subsequent interviews with police.

"Clearly, this was a miscarriage of justice all the way through," Womble's attorney, Tom Burnette, said Friday afternoon. "As they say, justice is slow. It may take a while, but the right thing happened in this case."

The three-judge judicial panel in Granville County – hearing Womble's case on the recommendation of the Innocence Commission – ordered the 60-year-old's release after Granville County District Attorney Sam Currin apologized to him and conceded that he was innocent.

Currin was not the prosecutor in the original case.

Joseph Perry, who was also convicted of first-degree murder in the case, wrote a letter to the Innocence Commission in April 2013, saying another man, Albert Willis was the culprit in Bullock's Nov. 18, 1975, death.

Perry said he and Willis were driving around looking for places to rob and shot Bullock, a convenience store clerk, twice in the mouth and once in the chest during a confrontation.

Perry said he never told on Willis because of a pact the two had made. But Willis died in December 2012, he said, and he felt he was no longer obligated to keep the promise.

According to its website, since the Innocence Commission began its work in 2007, it has received hundreds of claims that have resulted in seven people have been exonerated.

Most recently, half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were released after a judge overturned their convictions for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl because of new DNA evidence in the case.

"Mistakes can be made, and the commission is trying to ensure that those mistakes are made right," Sharron Stellato, the commission's associate director, said.


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  • ospreysilver Oct 20, 2014

    To be freed into a world you don't recognize or understand; to find out so many friends and family are now gone; and your own home doesn't even feel like home anymore.

  • babylaceycarpenter Oct 17, 2014

    So this story, told by a career criminal, fingering a man who is no longer alive, thus cannot be verified, allows another man, who confessed. No this doesn't smell funny at all.

  • stymieindurham Oct 17, 2014

    He "paid his debt" to society. Now, society owes him big time.
    Hmmmmmmm - society owes him????
    the two guy's who lied on him, IF that's true, owe him. Not me!!

  • A cold, hard dose of Hans Oct 17, 2014

    View quoted thread

    That's not a bad idea. He "paid his debt" to society. Now, society owes him big time.

  • Wheelman Oct 17, 2014

    View quoted thread

    This wasn't the system doing anything to him. An eyewitness lied about his involvement. There is no racism involved unless you want to call one black lying about another black racism. The state doesn't owe him anything since they did not coerce the false witness against him.

  • LetsBeFair Oct 17, 2014

    poor guy will have friends and relatives he never knew he had once the dump truck pulls up to his house ... beep beep beep and unloads the money they owe him.

  • tri123 Oct 17, 2014

    View quoted thread

    And brought up on charges! We need to pressure our state legislature to change the statute of limitations so that wrong doing in a court case has a limitation that goes out to as long as the victim is in prison and forever if there is an execution. There is no excuse the there is no limitation on murder if you do it, but only a few years if you convince the state to do it.

  • marxnsain Oct 17, 2014

    what might we be discussing today if mr. womble had received the penalty many propose for such a crime?

  • dirtydozen431 Oct 17, 2014

    Who is more culpable, the District Attorney with a confession and no evidence or a defense attorney with a confession and no evidence.

  • shareisa Oct 17, 2014

    We all need to donate money and goods to this man to help him set up a place to live and enjoy the good years he has left. Where can we do that?