Libertarian N.C. gubernatorial candidate Barbara Howe has announced her support for a pardon of innocence for the group known as the Wilmington Ten, nine men and one woman convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1972.
They served nearly a decade in prison before a federal appeals court overturned the conviction for prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.
“The evidence that has been revealed over the years since the convictions paints a very gloomy picture of the North Carolina judicial system,” said Howe. “The recanting of witness statements and the prosecutorial misconduct that has come to light with the release of the (Prosecutor Jay) Stroud files clearly demonstrate the need for action (by Perdue).”
All three key witnesses for the prosecution recanted their testimonies in 1976, telling a grand jury they were paid for their testimony. The release of the prosecutor Jay Stroud’s files in September provided further insight into the depth of the misconduct.
The notes from jury selection reveal an active pursuit of jurors with possible Ku Klux Klan ties and attempts to have black jurors removed. The final jury selection in the case included ten white and two black jurors.
Howe said that granting a pardon to the Wilmington Ten would show a renewed commitment by the state of North Carolina to the cause of justice.
In May, Rev. Benjamin Chavis and the other five surviving members of the group petitioned Gov. Bev Perdue for a pardon of innocence. Howe said that a pardon would grant some closure for the surviving members of the Ten, but it must come before Perdue’s term ends on December 31.
A fourth member of the Ten died in August, underscoring the need for action by Governor Perdue.
Since the state of North Carolina has never declared the Ten innocent or withdrawn the charges against them, they remain felons in spite of the federal appeals court decision which freed them.
Under North Carolina law, a “pardon of innocence” allows the governor to declare a person innocent when they have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned and later determined to be innocent. It would allow those persons to seek compensation from the state
A Change.org petition to Perdue on behalf of the Ten has been filed, and has more than 600 signatures. Howe has written a letter to Perdue detailing her support for the pardon of innocence, and asks others to do the same.
As a Libertarian, Howe is a champion of the rights of all individuals and fights injustices committed against citizens by our public institutions. She’s been an active member of the state Libertarian Party since the late 1970s, serving as state chair and running for office several times.
Raleigh News & Observer: Four decades later, Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten seek a declaration of innocence
The Wilmington Journal: The Wilmington Ten: 40 years of loss and struggle