With time running short, advocates for the Wilmington 10 are increasing the pressure on Gov. Bev Perdue to issue pardons before she leaves office.
Attorneys for the six living and four deceased members will highlight recently discovered documents Tuesday that purportedly show the prosecutor in the case sought a mistrial because of the racial makeup of the jury, and then used race to pick a panel that eventually convicted the group.
“It’s blatant and clear and shows intentional racism,” said Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP.
Advocates will also present a petition with about 3,000 signatures in support of the pardons to the governor’s office in coming days.
Perdue received petitions for pardons of innocence six months ago and has yet to make a decision about whether to grant the request. For the 10 who were wrongly convicted of firebombing a Wilmington grocery store and conspiring to shoot at police during a 1972 racial disturbance, the pardon would serve as the first step toward financial compensation.
The case is one of many big decisions remaining for the Democratic governor in her final six weeks. Others include the ongoing controversy about how to prevent more than 1,000 mentally ill people from losing their homes; what to do with the Dorothea Dix hospital campus; and crafting a placeholder budget for the incoming Republican governor.
In addition, about 50 more pardon requests are awaiting action at the Office of Executive Clemency. One prominent clemency case is Janet Danahey, a Greensboro woman who is 10 years into a life sentence for setting a fire in 2002 that killed four people.
Perdue recently told The News & Record that she would wait until the final days of her term in late December to make decisions on pardons and commutations. She said those seeking clemency must present an “inordinate reason” for her to alter decisions made by judges or juries.
“I take it with grave seriousness,” the governor told the Greensboro newspaper.
Advocates for the Wilmington 10 say Perdue’s lame-duck status offers their best chance.
“I personally believe that Gov. Perdue is our last hope,” said Cash Michaels, the editor of a black newspaper and coordinator of the pardon effort. “No offense to Gov.-elect McCrory. I don’t see a Republican governor with a Republican legislature looking at this issue with an unbiased eye. They would look at the potential political implications.”
A spokesman for McCrory, who takes office Jan. 5, did not return a request for comment about the matter.
The petitions were filed on behalf of Ben Chavis, Reginald Epps, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, Connie Tindall, Willie Vereen, Ann Sheppard Turner, Jerry Jacobs and Joe Wright. Turner, Jacobs and Wright are dead; Tindall died in August.
The governor’s legal staff met with the attorneys for the Wilmington 10 in late October to work though legal issues pertaining to the pardons, which are largely based on a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the case.
Irv Joyner, an N.C. Central law professor who represents the group, said Perdue’s attorneys raised questions about what evidence existed to exonerate those convicted and other details from the two trials – which drew international attention on civil rights in North Carolina. He said he left the meeting as confident as when he entered about the group’s chances for a pardon.
“On the merits of the case, it speaks loudly for granting the pardons of innocence,” he said. “It’s just a matter of waiting for her.”