SPECIAL TO THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
General Court of Justice
Fifth Prosecutorial District
Wilmington, NC 28402
December 31, 2012
To Members of the Media:
A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice—nothing more and nothing less. That means we must pursue the truth and ensure a fair process to all concerned. Where we fail, so must the verdicts we obtain. Today Governor Perdue, through the clemency process, pardoned the Wilmington 10. My office will respect and abide by this decision.
I have never speculated about the guilt or innocence of these defendants. None of us currently in the District Attorney’s office worked here, and many of us were not even alive, at the time of the trial. I am aware, however, that there are strong views, from good people on both sides, on the question of whether any or all of the members of the Wilmington 10 conspired to firebomb a grocery store. The best that I can say years later is I am not satisfied that we can know the truth about what happened.
Simply saying that we cannot know the truth, however, does not settle the question of whether justice was done. We must also ask whether the trial was fair. Where there is a flawed process, the outcome must also be questioned. Governor Perdue relied on new evidence and concluded that the trial prosecutor engaged in racial discrimination during jury selection, When jurors are excluded on the basis of race, the defendant and the entire community is denied a fair trial. No one, especially prosecutors, can justify an outcome where the Constitution has been violated.
The new evidence came to light through the work of historians who reviewed the remnants of the case file that my office gave to the Southern Historical Collection at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill nearly five years ago. To be effective, a courthouse must be both transparent and accountable. When no victim or case is harmed by disclosure to third parties, those of us tasked with searching for the truth should be unafraid of outside scrutiny, They truth should not stay buried, even when it is painful.
As prosecutors, the truth is our only client, For guilty defendants, the truth hurts. For the innocent, the truth will set them free. Sometimes the truth remains elusive. Where, as here, the process that was in place to search for the truth is determined to be so fundamentally flawed that we cannot know it, the verdict cannot stand the test of time. My job, as District Attorney, is to make sure that this does not happen again.
Benjamin R. David, District Attorney