Hunt Commutes First Death Row Sentence
Posted December 14, 1999
RALEIGH — Governor Hunt has not done it before. On Wednesday, he commuted the death sentence for a condemned inmate.
Wendell Flowers was scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday for the murder of another inmate, Rufus Coley Watson, Jr. Flowers and three other inmates were charged with the murder.
Hunt decided to commute his sentence after reviewing his case.
"I am convinced from all that I have learned about this case that several inmates were involved in this murder," Hunt said. "From the testimony of the eyewitness it is not clear exactly what role Flowers actually carried out."
"But it is clear as a bell that Flowers did not kill Rufus Watson alone," Hunt said.
Sister Evelyn Mattern of the North Carolina Council of Churches says she is grateful that he has allowed this one case to leap out at him.
"I know the governor has a concern about fairness in the judiciary, so I think with his concern about fairness, he had to give clemency in this case," Mattern said.
Members of the legal community helped convince the governor to grant clemency.
"I think it is a further illustration that our criminal justice system, although it is a very good system, makes mistakes," said Malcolm Hunter, a North Carolina appelate defender. "There are situations where the courts cannot avoid making errors, and that's exactly what executive clemency is for."
One of the four inmates was tried twice, but not convicted. Two were convicted and received life sentences. Only Flowers was sentenced to death.
The NAACP also went to Governor Hunt arguing the fairness of the case.
"It should be all or none," said Ronald White, NAACP Branch Director. "If you are in cahoots or with someone, then it should be the same sentence coming down on each and everyone."
Flowers was serving a life sentence at the Piedmont Correctional Institute in Salisbury when, in 1981, Watson was stabbed to death.
Flowers signed a statement declaring that he stabbed Watson and forced other inmates to help clean the victim's cell and move Watson's body. Physical evidence and eyewitness testimony, however, discredited Flowers' version of the crime.
Flowers released a statement after hearing the governor commuted his sentence. The statement read: "I am thankful for the governor for commuting my death sentence, and I thank the many people that went to the governor."
Hunt says while he is commuting his sentence, Flowers should spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.
"There is no question that Wendell Flowers is a very dangerous criminal who was already serving a life sentence for the vicious killing of an elderly shop owner in Wilkes County," Hunt said. "He should, and will, spend the rest of his natural life in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole." From staff and wire reports