BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Now that the 2012 presidential and gubernatorial elections are history, supporters for Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant individual pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten are focused to building more overwhelming public support for the cause before she leaves office on Dec. 31st.
Churches, fraternities, sororities, community and civic organizations are being asked to meaningfully support the cause of justice by sending letters to Gov. Perdue, or signing the online petition at https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-ten.
This week, the Final Call, the national newspaper of the Nation of Islam, published a story about the Wilmington Ten pardons effort, as did the Associated Press in many major newspapers across the nation on Oct. 28th. At least one national television network has expressed interest in looking into the story as well.
Thousands of signatures in hard copy and online petitions have been collected, but organizers with the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project – an outreach effort by the National Newspaper Publishers Association – say that still many more are needed by December 1st.
The next two-and-a-half weeks are critical, they say, towards garnering more petition signatures and letters of support in order to document that there is widespread sentiment across the state and nation that the false prosecution of nine African-American males and one white female forty years ago, was wrong, and the state needs to correct.
Add to that the most recent and explosive revelation that James “Jay” Stroud, the state prosecutor who had the Wilmington Ten falsely convicted and sentenced to 282 years in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, not only sought to gerrymander the jury of the first June 1972 trial to include “KKK” and “Uncle Tom” types, but also, documented evidence from his own handwritten notes show, succeeded in having that first trial aborted because it had a jury of ten blacks and two whites.
The second trial, in Sept. 1972, had a Pender County jury of ten whites and two blacks, in addition to a judge that history shows was more favorable to the prosecution.
“The prosecutor’s notes are clear and convincing evidence that race was not just a factor in his selection of the ten whites and two blacks on the Pender jury that convicted the Wilmington Ten,” veteran civil rights attorney Al McSurely says. “Race was the only factor. Forty years later, we know his real motives. I believe when the governor studies this evidence, she will do the right thing and sign the pardons.”
“I can barely contain my outrage at the blatant racism of an officer of the court,” attorney McSurely added.
UNC – Chapel Hill law Professor Gene Nichol agreed.
“This intense abuse of governmental authority, prosecutorial misconduct — both professional and racial — casts a long shadow over the North Carolina system of justice, Prof. Nichol says. “It also, of course, worked massive and unforgivable constitutional injury on the lives of ten North Carolinians.”
“The prosecutor made mockery of his high office by knowingly, intentionally, and purposefully placing perjured testimony at the heart of the trial. It is also clear now, in ways not demonstrated by documentary evidence before, that he tainted the trial initiation process and vital jury selection through patent, overt, and outcome-determinative racism.”
“It is crucial that North Carolina act to admit and concede such a potent and defining abuse of power,” Prof. Nichol maintains. “To allow public servants to behave in such a fashion, without remedy, is literally intolerable.”
Attorneys for the pardons effort met with Governor Perdue’s staff several weeks ago, presenting their case, based on the Dec. 1980 US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which overturned all ten of the convictions, based on prosecutorial misconduct, and the fact that not only was exculpatory evidence was hidden by prosecutor, but three witnesses for the state admitted they were enticed to lie.
Despite all, however, the state of North Carolina, in the 32 years since, has refused to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten, thus maintaining their false felony convictions.
In the six months since the pardons effort campaign publicly kicked off, support for Gov. Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Ten have come from North Carolina congressmen G. K. Butterfield, David Price and Brad Miller; the NC Legislative Black Caucus and Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh.
The 2012 NC Democratic Party platform also adopted a plank supporting the Wilmington Ten pardon effort last summer.
In terms of grassroots support, the NC NAACP has led the way, followed by a unanimous resolution last May by the national NAACP Board of Directors, and most recently, the NC chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In each case, supporters have said that Gov. Perdue, given her record of advocacy for the original 2009 NC Racial Justice Act; her push for reparations for the victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program; and the governor’s veto of the Republican legislature’s voter ID bill; is well positioned, before she leaves office, to add to her legacy pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.
And unlike the legislature’s gutting to the Racial Justice Act, or their refusal to pay reparations to the eugenics victims, and the certainty that the Republicans will institute voter ID when they go into session, they can’t touch pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.