The Duke Law Innocence Project has uncovered significant forensic evidence and witness statements which were not disclosed to a capital defendant, Charles Ray Finch, prior to his 1976 trial in which he was sentenced to die in North Carolina’s gas chamber. His sentence was later commuted to life without parole.
The Wilson Times provides a summary of the Duke Innocence Project’s brief in which they allege that the state misled the jury to believe that the victim suffered a single gunshot wound, and did not disclose that their key witness had named a second suspect:
The motion states Finch was sentenced to death as a “result of false, tainted and misleading evidence, which led a jury to wrongfully convict him.” The evidence they contend that led to his conviction was due to several things, including a “rush to judgment” by a former Wilson County sheriff’s deputy who considered Finch a suspect on the night of the murder, although “he had no reason for doing so,” according to the motion. The state’s key witness, who was not injured in the shooting that night, misidentified Finch as the killer in an improper lineup, the motion contends. During the trial, the state’s theory was that Finch killed Holloman with a sawed-off shotgun, which was fired at close range. That theory was based on the eyewitness account of the shooting, according to the motion. “There is now indisputable evidence, withheld from the defense, that Holloman died from multiple gunshot wounds and not a shotgun wound,” the motion read. The state also suppressed evidence that the sole eyewitness had also identified another man as involved in Holloman’s death, according to court documents. The day after Finch told deputies that same man had confessed to him that he killed Holloman, deputies showed the eyewitness a picture line up with several mug shots, which included the man Finch said had confessed to him. The eyewitness identified that man as a second person involved in the incident that night. The state never disclosed that evidence to the defense, the judge or to the jury, according to the motion. No one else was ever tried in the case. The state’s evidence in 1976 included an eyewitness, an autopsy report, a No. 1 Buck shotgun shell found in Finch’s car and the testimony of a man who said he may have seen Finch outside Holloman’s store within an hour of the murder, contradicting the testimony of Finch’s alibi witnesses, who said he was playing cards and drinking with friends at the time of Holloman’s death.
We will follow this story and provide updates when the state responds to the Duke Innocence Project’s motion.