State News

Judges find two men innocent of 2000 murder

Posted September 22, 2011

— 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. 

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  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 26, 2011

    @whatusay...really it never ceases to amaze me how folks like you cannot even read or interpret the information as it is written. NO jury convicted these men. No one has overturned a JURY verdict in this case. I would never want my fate decided by a jury of 12 people like you who cannot actually accurately read a simple news article correctly.

  • whatusay Sep 23, 2011

    Seems our judicial system has broken down. If judges can now determine guilt or innocence why do we have a jury of 12?
    If new evidence has turned up a new trial should be in order, where a jury of 12 can determine guilt or innocence, not 3 judges.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 23, 2011

    Do folks understand that public defenders work for the state? And that they are under pressure to get plea deals worked out? I know of one case where a public defender sold her client down the river at trial to preserve her chance of getting a cushy job as an ADA or election as a judge. These folks are working within the system that is horribly corrupt. They have to play the game or they are "cast out". Ordinary citizens must realize that they can be convicted wrongfully under this system especially when folks (prospective jurors) still agree that these guys are guilty even though now PROVEN innocent. Truly scary.

  • jackcdneh1017 Sep 23, 2011

    @fayncmike...I am not the one who said ""If you didn't do it, it can be proven that you didn't. You'd have a solid alibi and there would be no evidence found against you" That was said by "Happynowquestionmark" who is clearly totally naive about the justice system, "testilying" and convictions with zero evidence here in NC. Anyone with a lick of sense would plead out to 13 years rather than be sentenced to death regardless of guilt or not in NC. I was merely trying to provide the quote I DISAGREED with and it got mistakenly sent and attributed to me.

  • Whatever27 Sep 23, 2011

    dontgetmestarted, yeah, that's EXACTLY what I said (eye roll). Just because I'm not jumping on the 'they're entirely innocent bandwagon' doesn't mean I think there has, quote, 'NEVER' been an innocent person convicted.
    Why an innocent person would plead guilty instead of insisting innocence and demading to fight for freedom is beyond me. Sure, there may be some wrongly convicted out there. Not sure where you got that idea I thought that couldn't possibly happen.

  • fayncmike Sep 23, 2011

    "North Carolina has a long and(not)impressive history of wrongful convictions."

    After reading the comments here do you wonder why? Would you like to hear something REALLY frightening? These people are prospective jurors. THAT'S really frightening.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 23, 2011

    Happynowquestionmark

    So what you're saying is there has NEVER been an innocent person convicted of any crime? Hmmm...I wouldn't bet my life on our criminal justice system and some attorney that had too much on his plate to handle my case properly.

  • fayncmike Sep 23, 2011

    "If you didn't do it, it can be proven that you didn't. You'd have a solid alibi and there would be no evidence found against you
    jackcdneh1017"

    And could still find yourself convicted as many have.

  • Whatever27 Sep 23, 2011

    You guys are so funny. I really just LOL at your comments. No innocent person just pleads guilty. It's not like a jury/judge can convict you solely on the fact that you don't have an alibi anyway. My point was, an innocent person just doesn't give up and plead to a crime they didn't commit. Would you? I sure as heck wouldn't.

  • dontgetmestarted Sep 23, 2011

    "That is why defendants aren't supposed to prove their innocence. The prosecutor is supposed to prove their guilt."

    Exactly, but the defense attorney, obviously, had better things to do than to properly establish a DEFENSE for these guys. You do need some form of defense when someone is prosecuting you, otherwise we could ALL save a lot of $$ on defense attorneys!!!!

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