Saunders: Perdue can right the wrong done to Wilmington 10

December 16, 2012 

“Dadgummit. I thought I tol’ that woman to burn them notes.”

How much do you want to bet that was the first thing Jay Stroud said upon learning that notes in his handwriting were recently discovered, showing how he manipulated a jury 40 years ago to send 10 innocent people to prison?

Stroud is the former New Hanover County prosecutor who, evidence then and now shows, railroaded the Wilmington 10 for a 1971 arson that he knew they didn’t commit. Stroud has since been disbarred and served time in prison for unrelated misdeeds.

The record shows that the then-assistant D.A. was disgraceful even before he was disgraced.

He didn’t like the racial composition of the jury in the trial of the 10, so he created a mistrial that would enable him to select his Dream Team jury.

In the recently discovered notes, Stroud assessed the pros and cons of various jurors whom he thought would help him convict innocent people.

“KKK? Good,” is how he described one.

“Sensible, Uncle Tom type” is how he favorably described a black potential juror. Hey, who knew Clarence Thomas was in Wilmington at that time?

Gov. Bev Perdue should pardon the Wilmington 10 before she leaves office in a few weeks. With the flourish of a pen she can remove the stain from them and from our state and place it where it belongs – on Stroud, this reprehensible, belching embodiment of prosecutorial misconduct.

There are petitions making the rounds, demanding their pardon. The first name on each of them should be that of the man who lied and unconstitutionally stacked the jury deck against them. He should then deliver them himself to Gov. Perdue.

Don’t worry, Jay. That won’t make us think you framed 10 innocent people.

We already think that.

The equally slimy prosecution witnesses – The Carolinian newspaper ran excerpts of letters one wrote to Stroud, asking the prosecutor to procure him a woman while in jail – who helped secure the tainted convictions later recanted, but not before all of the defendants did time in prison.

Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their sentences in 1977 after the extent of Stroud’s bad behavior was revealed but, bafflingly, refused to pardon them.

Actually, it’s not baffling at all. Hunt would eventually be re-elected governor and would lose a race against Jesse Helms for the U.S. Senate.

Even if he knew a pardon was the just and decent thing to bestow, he didn’t want to put that arrow in Jesse’s quiver prior to a head-to-head race. Hunt lost to Helms anyway, so he should’ve done the right thing: History would be kinder to him if he had.

Gov.-for-two-more-weeks Perdue, though, is fixing to bid adieu to Raleigh except for visits to that park she bravely helped create.

Knowing she’ll never have to face the electorate again should make making the right decision easier.

Come on, Gov. Perdue. All of the Wilmington 10 members have shed their Department of Correction chains – and four have shed their earthly chains for, one hopes, their heavenly reward. Because they sure enough caught hell down here.

Only you, though, can clear their names.

Even though ol’ Ebenezer Stroud is still contending he did nothing wrong and that they were guilty as charged, what a joyous Christmas gift a pardon of the Wilmington 10 would be.

And Stroud can go “bah humbug” by himself.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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