In April 1992, Howard Dudley refused a plea deal that would have allowed him to not spend a day in prison.
Charged with sexually assaulting his 9-year-old daughter, Dudley said he refused to plead guilty when he was absolutely innocent.
The jury convicted Dudley. The judge sentenced him to life plus three years.
After 23 years in prison, Dudley does not regret his decision.
“If they offered me a plea bargain right now I’d walk out and go back to my dorm,” Dudley said Wednesday. “Everything that looks like freedom is not always free. I have peace of mind within myself. I have freedom behind the fence. I have freedom within me.”
His case will return to court Thursday for the first time since Dudley was the subject of a 2005 News & Observer series. The stories revealed problems with case and explored Dudley’s life in prison.
There was no physical evidence of abuse. The only evidence against Dudley was the testimony of his daughter, Amy Moore. Just months after the trial, Moore told babysitters she lied about her father. She went on to file sworn affidavits and testify in court that her father never molested her.
Moore said she was angry at his strict discipline and jealous of his new wife and their two small children. She said she got the idea of the molestation from the Sally Jessy Raphael show. She has written governors and prison superintendents asking them to free her father.
Amy Moore’s mental disabilities are at the heart of Dudley’s bid for freedom, according to his lawyer, Theresa Newman of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at the Duke University School of Law.
Moore gave sketchy and inconsistent testimony at trial, Newman argued. Recent testing has shown that she suffers from “mild mental retardation,” can be easily led to create false statements and has serious psychological problems. Newman said investigators from the Department of Social Services and the Kinston police compounded the errors by interviewing Moore in ways rejected by current practices in child psychology.
District Attorney Matthew Delbridge has rejected those arguments. Dudley has tried to get his conviction overturned three times prior. A judge in 2000 found that Moore’s recantation was not credible. The people of North Carolina have an interest in the finality of criminal judgments, Delbridge wrote recently: Dudley “does not get a second bite at the apple.”