North Carolina Finds Two Men Innocent After Decade in Prison

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By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

North Carolina is the only state in America that has an official review board for verifying the verdicts in cases in which the defendants maintain their innocence. Called the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, this three-judge panel reviews new testimonies and grants greater access to DNA evidence as part of its process. This is part of a new trend in the court system nationwide that seeks to address growing concern with wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, there is no such panel in Georgia, which could have intervened in the case of Troy Davis and saved his life.

The good news is that the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission has already released three men from prison who were wrongfully convicted. USA Today reports on the recent release of Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson, who served ten years for a murder they didn’t commit:

The three-judge panel made its decision after seven days of testimony in the case against Kenneth Kagonyera, 31, and Robert Wilcoxson, 32.

Wilcoxson was the first to be released. He hugged his 10-year-old daughter, Taneea, and his father as he walked out of jail hours after the hearing. He left quickly, saying only that his plans for his first night as a free man in nearly a decade were simple. “Pray,” he said.

Kagonyera left jail hours later to applause and hugs and kisses from his mother and grandmother.

“It was a blessing,” he said. Kagonyera said he had prepared himself for the panel to rule against his claim though he tried not to dwell on the prospect of going back to prison. He said his plans are to “get a job, move on and put this behind me.”

“I am just so happy I don’t know what to say,” said Charlene Holmes, Kagonyera’s mother.

The hearing came after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in April found enough evidence to indicate the men were not guilty, including the confession of another man and DNA testing that pointed to other suspects.

The men had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the slaying of Walter Bowman in 2000, though they repeatedly claimed they were innocent. Their attorneys at the hearing said the men admitted to the murder to avoid life sentences.

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