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Man wrongly convicted of first-degree murder is released

In a country professing to guarantee extensive civil rights to criminal defendants, there's no shortage of innocent individuals being sent to prison or to their death. In North Carolina, another man has been released and found to have had nothing to do with a murder for which he was convicted and imprisoned for 17 years. This is the latest in a string of such discoveries in North Carolina.

The man is a 62-year-old who was convicted of first degree murder and given a life sentence based on virtually no physical evidence and on the testimony of one witness who has since recanted. The man was wrongfully convicted of killing a female university professor in 1988. A wrongful convictions clinic at Duke University took up his case seven years ago, helping to expedite his release in 2012.

One gratifying fact is that a 45-year-old Greensboro police detective came forward with the deciding piece of evidence, a previously ignored palm print that matched a man who had been an early suspect. That suspect also had a real motive. What is even more gratifying was the prosecutor's willingness to re-open the file and engage in another investigation, including having a meaningful interchange with defense attorneys and innocence investigators.

When prosecutors change their ego-centric need to protect their conviction records, and instead begin to cooperate with investigative inquiries, that will usher in a significant sense of hope for the innocents who are incarcerated. Of course, where there are strong DNA findings of innocence, a prosecutor's cooperation may unnecessary. Nonetheless, a change in the rigid opposition of prosecutors could usher in a new era of cooperation to weed out the true facts and restore justice.

North Carolina has a checkered record of wrongful convictions for the crime of murder and other violent crimes. The emergence of innocence projects and DNA evidence in recent decades gives new hope for these cases. In the meantime, if you have a family member or friend who is charged with a violent crime, prevention of a wrongful conviction is also important. It's highly advisable that the accused obtain experienced defense counsel to present a strong defense against charges of violent crime so that the defendant's rights are truly protected.

Source: newsobserver.com, "Wrongfully convicted man is free at last after 17 years," Anne Blythe, April 8, 2013

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