Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

January 1, 2013

N.C. governor signs pardons for Wilmington 10

RALEIGH, N.C. — Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue issued pardons Monday to the Wilmington 10, a group wrongly convicted 40 years ago in a notorious Civil Rights-era prosecution that led to accusations that the state was holding political prisoners.

Perdue issued pardons of innocence Monday for the nine black men and one white woman who received prison sentences totaling nearly 300 years for the 1971 firebombing of a Wilmington grocery store during three days of violence that included the shooting of a black teenager by police.

The pardon means the state no longer thinks the 10 — four of whom have since died — committed a crime.

“I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained,” Perdue said in a news release Monday.

The three key witnesses in the case later recanted their testimony. Amnesty International and other groups took up the issue, portraying the Wilmington 10 as political prisoners.

In 1978, then-Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their sentences but withheld a pardon. Two years later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., threw out the convictions, saying perjury and prosecutorial misconduct were factors in the verdicts.

“We are tremendously grateful to Gov. Perdue for her courage,” said Benjamin Chavis, the former national NAACP executive director who was in jail and prison for about five years before his release. “This is a historic day for North Carolina and the United States. People should be innocent until proven guilty, not persecuted for standing up for equal rights and justice.”

In addition to Chavis, the surviving members of the Wilmington 10 are Reginald Epps, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick and Willie Earl Vereen. Those who have died are Jerry Jacobs, Ann Shepard, Connie Tindall and Joe Wright.

The bombing of the white-owned Mike’s Grocery occurred less than three years after the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Schools in Wilmington and New Hanover County hadn’t desegregated, and black students began a boycott.

The United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, for whom Chavis worked, sent him to Wilmington to advise the students. On Feb. 6, 1971, the white-owned Mike’s Grocery was firebombed, and police killed a black teenager that night. A day later, a white man was shot and killed.

The National Guard then moved in to end the violence.

The Wilmington 10 were convicted in October 1972 on charges of conspiracy to firebomb Mike’s Grocery and conspiracy to assault emergency personnel who responded to the fire.

The trial was held in Burgaw in Pender County after a judge declared a mistrial the first time. A jury of 10 blacks and two whites had been seated in the first trial when prosecutor Jay Stroud said he was sick, and the judge declared the mistrial. At the second trial, a jury of 10 whites and two blacks was seated.

The three key witnesses who took the stand for the prosecution recanted their testimony in 1976. And the prosecutor, Stroud, became a flashpoint for the Wilmington 10 supporters.   

In November, NAACP state leaders said they believe newly uncovered notes show Stroud tried to keep blacks off the first jury and seat whites he thought were sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan.

They showed the notes on a poster board, saying the handwriting on the legal paper appeared to match notes from other prosecution records in the case.

At the top of the list of 100 jurors, the notes said, “stay away from black men.” A capital “B” was beside the names of black jurors. The notes identify one potential black juror as an “Uncle Tom type,” and beside the names of several white people, notations include “KKK?” and “good!!”

“This conduct is disgraceful,” Perdue said. “It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt — not based on race or other forms of prejudice.”

Stroud told the StarNews of Wilmington that he wrote some of the notes but declined to confirm that to the AP in November. On Monday, he told the AP that he wouldn’t have written “stay away from black men,” and said someone could have forged the notes.

The N.C. State Bar lists Stroud as a former defense attorney whose status is inactive at his request. Stroud has been arrested more than a dozen times in the past six years, and his son told The Gaston Gazette in 2011 that his father suffers with bipolar disease and that he was diagnosed about the same time he graduated from law school.

“I think she has made a mistake,” Stroud said of Perdue on Monday. “The case was prosecuted fairly, and the jury reached a unanimous verdict fairly quickly after a six-week trial. And they found all 10 defendants unanimously guilty of all charges. And I think her decision is flying in the face of the jury’s verdict.”

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results