State News

NC innocence panel reviews 2000 Buncombe killing

Posted April 28, 2011 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2011 10:37 p.m. EDT

— The attorney for a man convicted in a decade-old Buncombe County murder said Thursday that prosecutors never shared DNA evidence with him that could have cleared his client of the crime.

The case of Kenneth Manzi Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson is the fourth hearing held by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission since it was created five years ago. The commission is the only state agency in the U.S. dedicated to considering wrongful convictions.

Kagonyera and Wilcoxson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in the 2000 shooting death of Walter Rodney Bowman. Three others were convicted in the case as well.

During Thursday's hearing, statements from witnesses, including Bowman's son, were presented in which they recanted earlier testimony that Kagonyera and Wilcoxson were involved in the shooting.

Also, evidence showed that DNA found on a bandanna believed to belong to one of Bowman's killers didn't match either Kagonyera or Wilcoxson.

Sean Devereux, who represented Kagonyera in the case, testified before the commission that he urged his client to accept the plea deal offered by prosecutors because he was overloaded with other cases.

"He was very insistent that he didn't do it," Devereux said. "I think I decided early on, 'This is a no-brainer. He needs to take the deal,' and probably did not – not probably, certainly did not – spend the time (needed on the case)."

Tests show DNA on the bandanna matched a man who was never investigated or charged in the case. Devereux said prosecutors never shared that information with him and he never asked for the results.

Kagonyera and Wilcoxson are serving 12-year prison sentences.

The hearing is expected to conclude Friday. If the commission decides to have a full hearing on the case, the matter will go before a special three-judge panel in Asheville.