Local News

Former Death Row Inmate Supports AG's Plan To Open Files To Defense

Posted March 5, 2004

— Alan Gell is a free man after his retrial for a murder in Bertie County back in 1995. His case has the state's current attorney general calling for prosecutors to open all their files to defense attorneys -- something Gov. Mike Easley originally opposed when he was attorney general.

Nine years in prison, six years of which on death row, are now just a memory and pages in a scrapbook for Alan Gell.

"I've been enjoying it a whole lot," he said.

Gell's attorneys said it took so long to prove his innocence because they were unaware of some key evidence in his first trial.

"The difference would have been not losing my freedom or ever having to experience what it's like on death row," Gell said.

Attorney General Roy Cooper recently called on all prosecutors to start sharing their complete files with defense attorneys in first-degree murder cases. It is called open file discovery. As in Gell's case, that often happens only through an appeal when someone is sentenced to die.

"It's troubling that there could actually be evidence of your innocence and under the current way that it is, it could be withheld," Gell said.

One item that was not turned over to Gell's attorneys in his first trial -- a list of witnesses who say they saw the victim still alive when Gell was already in jail on unrelated charges. That later turned out to be one of the keys to his acquittal.

"It feels good to see they're actually making an effort to correct a mistake," she said.

Gell said he has living proof there are flaws in the system, which is why he plans to fight for a moratorium on the death penalty. Gell said he wants to speak to the state Legislature this spring.

Since 1973, 113 death row inmates, including Gell, have been exonerated across the country because of new evidence. Four of those cases were in North Carolina.

The first was in 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled there was no evidence Sameul Poole committed a murder. In 1989, Timothy Hennis was cleared of a triple murder in Cumberland County in his second trial after prosecutor misconduct in his first trial. Ten years later, Alfred Rivera walked off death row and into freedom after a retrial when the jury was finally able to hear testimony that Rivera may have been set up by drug dealers.

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