State News

Innocence panel refers 2000 murder case for review

Posted April 29, 2011 7:58 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2011 9:05 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission decided Friday to ask for further review of a decade-old Buncombe County murder after two days of testimony challenging the guilty pleas of Kenneth Manzi Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson.

In the next step, a special three-judge panel will consider new evidence that Kagonyera and Wilcoxson may have been wrongfully convicted in the 2000 shooting death of Walter Rodney Bowman. Three others were convicted in the case as well.

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

Kagonyera and Wilcoxson are serving 12-year prison sentences.

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 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 that they are innocent to a three-judge panel. If the judges agree, the claimant can be exonerated – declared innocent.