North Carolina governor calls the convictions “tainted by naked racism.”
Forty years after being unjustly convicted of a grocery store bombing in Wilmington, North Carolina, the “Wilmington 10” have been pardoned by Governor Beverly Purdue. CNN reports:
In 1972, nine black men and one white woman were convicted in the store firebombing in the coastal city despite their claims of innocence … Their sentences were reduced in 1978 by the state’s governor then, Jim Hunt, and two years later their convictions were overturned in federal court for reasons of misconduct by the prosecutors … But until Monday there were no pardons, and the sting of the guilty verdicts still followed the six surviving members of the group that was known nationwide as the Wilmington 10.
Among the evidence that led Governor Purdue to grant the pardons were recently uncovered notes from the prosecuting attorney responsible for picking the jurors in the original trial. The notes indicated the prosecution preferred white jurors, those who may have been members of the Ku Klux Klan especially, and one black juror his notes described as an “Uncle Tom type.” Another important point was the federal court’s ruling that the “prosecutor knew his star witness lied on the witness stand.” Purdue said:
These convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer. Justice demands that this stain finally be removed.
The prosecution’s notes were reportedly given to Timothy Taylor, a visiting professor at Duke University and a North Carolina historian two years ago. Taylor, who said, “It was pretty shocking stuff,” started going through the materials in earnest recently after the NAACP once again called for the pardons of the Wilmington 10. He told CNN:
There were at least six potential jurors with “KKK Good!!” written next to them. Next to a woman’s name it said, “NO, she associates with Negroes.” On the back of the legal pad, the prosecutor, Jay Stroud, had apparently written the advantages and disadvantages of a mistrial. One of the advantages was a fresh start with a new jury.
Jay Stroud told a local news station in October that although it was his handwriting on the legal pad, people were “misinterpreting his notes.” He also said, “I could have had an all-white jury, but I didn’t want to do that. Why would I leave a KKK on the jury?” But instead that he wanted, “blacks who could be fair.”
The jury that convicted the Wilmington 10 was, in fact the second jury to rule on the case. The first jury, dismissed after a mistrial due to an illness Stroud claimed to have had, was almost exclusively made up of black citizens; only two of the jurors were white.
The trial of the Wilmington 10 was blatantly racially motivated and an extremely disturbing cases of the justice system being used to silence and punish an entire group of people standing up for their rights as citizens of the United States. Although it has taken 40 years, the pardon handed down by Governor Purdue is the only remedy to what was truly a travesty of justice. It cannot erase what happened, or give the surviving members of the Wilmington 10 all those lost years back, but it can begin the healing that is so vital to both the state of North Carolina, and the country as a whole.