Judges find two men innocent of 2000 murder
Posted September 22, 2011
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Two men serving time for a decade-old Buncombe County murder got a second chance at freedom Thursday when a panel of judges reviewing their convictions found them innocent.
The three-judge panel was hearing the case after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission determined that there was enough new evidence to potentially clear Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson.
The men pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Walter Rodney Bowman of Fairview at his home in 2000. They claimed they agreed to the pleas to avoid the possibility of getting the death penalty or spending life behind bars.
Sean Devereux, who represented Kagonyera in the case, told the Innocence Commission that he urged his client to accept the plea deal offered by prosecutors because he was overloaded with other cases.
Kagonyera and Wilcoxson were among five men to plead guilty to charges related to Bowman's death. Three of them, Larry Williams, Damian Mills and Teddy Isbell, served their time and have been released from prison.
Kagonyera and Wilcoxson were still serving their 12-year sentences when another man confessed that he and three others had actually been the assailants. That man's DNA was linked to evidence at the crime scene.
What is the Innocence Commission?
The commission has eight members: a Superior Court judge, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, a victim advocate, a sheriff and three others.
They are the only state-sponsored group in the United States to review of post-conviction claims of innocence in the United States. Of the hundreds of claims, the commission has found four cases where new, credible evidence indicated that the person could have been innocent.
When they determine that, as they did Friday in the cases of Kagonyera and Wilcoxson, the burden of proof falls on the convicted to demonstrate to a three-judge panel that they are innocent. If the judges agree, the claimant can be exonerated – declared innocent.
The commission has heard just three other cases. In the first case, decided in February 2010, judges exonerated Gregory Flynt Taylor of a the 1991 murder of a Cary woman.