Local News

Review of Deputy's Work Sought in Death Row Case

Posted April 3, 2008 11:48 a.m. EDT
Updated April 3, 2008 9:07 p.m. EDT

— The Burke County sheriff has asked state investigators to review the actions of a deputy accused of lying and withholding evidence in the case of a man freed from death row.

Sheriff John McDevitt said Thursday that he has placed Sgt. Dennis Rhoney, a Burke deputy since 2003, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a State Bureau of Investigation probe into perjury and obstruction of justice allegations.

A former detective in Catawba County, Rhoney is accused of lying during the 1994 murder trial of Glen Edward Chapman. Based in part on Rhoney's actions, Chapman was granted a new trial last year after spending more than a decade on death row.

Prosecutors dropped the case Wednesday, and Chapman walked out of Raleigh's Central Prison a free man.

McDevitt said he knew about the allegations, but didn't want to end Rhoney's career without a thorough outside review.

Chapman's attorneys said their client's case is an example of why the cases of all death row inmates should be reviewed and that his freedom would not have been possible without major legal reforms.

"There have been uncovered many, many instances of wrongdoing on the part of prosecution and police to obtain convictions and death sentences," said Mary Ann Tally, with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

In 1996, open-discovery law gave defense attorneys in North Carolina full access to investigators' and prosecutors' files when challenging a capital conviction. In 2001, it became required before trial.

"The problem is, there are 130-plus people on death row in North Carolina who did not have the benefit of these reforms," said Dick Taylor, director of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers.

The academy wants the state to speed up the review process for death row inmates.