Gov. Pat McCrory issued a pardon of innocence on Thursday for a Scotland County man who spent 27 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared him.
Edward Charles McInnis, 54, was wrongfully convicted of a sexual assault that took place in February 1988 at the Laurinburg home of an 81-year-old woman.
After his arrest in March 1988, McInnis told investigators he did not commit the assault and provided an alibi that checked out with several family members. He had a history of run-ins with the law, including a conviction for peeping and indecent exposure, and became an early focus of the police investigation.
In the fall of 1988, McInnis pleaded guilty to rape and other felonies that brought him a sentence of life in prison. Nonetheless, he continued to maintain his innocence through the years and reached out to the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in March 2015.
The commission, a state agency unique to North Carolina that “is charged with providing an independent and balanced truth-seeking forum for credible post-conviction claims of innocence,” pursued old DNA evidence with tests that were unavailable almost three decades ago.
The results, which did not implicate McInnis, were used by Kristy Newton, the district attorney of Scotland and Hoke counties, to seek relief for McInnis.
Judge Tanya T. Wallace vacated the verdict in August 2015 and ordered that McInnis be freed immediately.
In the court hearing seeking that freedom, the district attorney noted that McInnis told police, in their third interview of him, that he was responsible for the attack. But police files showed that not only was McInnis never able to recount his version of events, his statement was wildly inconsistent with the victim’s and with the physical evidence, including the method of entry to the house and the location of the attack.
He also was unable to describe the nature of the attack.
The district attorney dismissed all charges against McInnis.
McCrory met with McInnis this week at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh.
“On behalf of the State of North Carolina, I apologize to Mr. McInnis for the 27 years he had to spend behind bars for crimes he did not commit,” McCrory said in a statement announcing the pardon. “While we cannot give him back those years of his life, I wish him well as he resumes his life as a free man.”
McInnis is eligible to file a claim under a North Carolina law that allows compensation of up to $750,000 to persons wrongly convicted of felonies.