SMITHFIELD, N.C. — After four years in prison, Terrence Garner is looking forward to a positive future.
"I'm going to finish up my two-year degree here at Wayne Community College in drafting and engineering. Other than that, I'm just going to try to take it day-by-day and try to make my life better," he said.
Johnston County district attorney Tom Lock announced Tuesday that he will not re-try Garner for a robbery Garner said he never committed. Garner was 16 years old when he was named a suspect in the armed robbery. He blamed it on a mixup with another man named Terrance DeLoach.
Lock said he is no longer convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of Garner's guilt.
Garner's attorneys are thrilled with the decision and with his future plans.
"He really does seem to be seeking out positive influences for himself, and he seems very goal-directed," said Lisa Miles, Garner's attorney.
The 1997 armed robbery at the Quality Finance Co. in Princeton left Alice Wise blind in one eye. She has insisted all along that Garner was the one who shot her.
A judge released Garner in February after he served five years for the crime. A judge granted him a new trial and Wise eagerly awaited round two.
"It's going to surface everything all over again, I know that. But, like I said, if that's what it takes, I'm ready to do it. I want to do it," Wise said in February.
Round two will never come for Wise. Lock announced a second trial for Garner would be unjust. He said SBI agents who took a second look at the case determined the following:
It is possible for someone in Garner's situation to be compensated up to $15,000 for each year he was in prison, but Gov. Mike Easley is the only person with the authority to make that happen.
That decision will come another day. For now, Garner is concentrating on college. If he is angry about losing most of his teenager years to prison, he is not showing it.
"Everything is going well. I'm going to school. I'm staying out of trouble," he said. "I'm hanging around a whole lot of positive people, so everything is great."
It is doubtful Wise will change her opinion, based on the comments she made after Garner's release back in February.
"I know Terence Garner tried his best to kill me and that's not going to change," she said.
Questions about the Garner case intensified after PBS aired a "Frontline" documentary on the case in January. The airing of the 90-minute program apparently outraged viewers, and set off a groundswell of support for Garner.
Garner's supporters have not yet requested that Easley grant a pardon of innocence in this case. If they do, Easley can then take up the issue of whether Garner should be paid for his time in custody.