RALEIGH, N.C. — Ten North Carolina youths sent to prison in the 1970s, who became known as the Wilmington 10, are seeking pardons of innocence from Gov. Bev Perdue before she leaves office this year.
The seven survivors and relatives of three dead members of the group filed petitions Thursday with Perdue's office. They were convicted after a grocery store burned during a 1971 race riot in which the store was firebombed and snipers shot at firefighters from the roof of a church.
A group of civil rights activists and students barricaded inside the church, and a riot broke out, killing two people. In the end, 10 people were convicted of arson and conspiracy and sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison.
Wilmington 10 leader Benjamin Chavis and nine others were freed when a federal appeals court overturned their convictions in 1980, citing prosecutorial misconduct.
Chavis later became executive director of the NAACP. He says North Carolina's politics and history 40 years after their convictions make this the right time to seek pardons. It would also allow them to seek compensation from the state.
"(The past 40 years have been) hell, h-e-l-l. But, through the grace of God, we made it," said Wilmington 10 member Connie Tindall.
Perdue is not seeking re-election this year. Her spokeswoman says the petitions will get full and fair consideration.