The Wilmington Ten are truly free, at last.
Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue issued and signed a "pardon of innocence" for the group Monday. There are currently six surviving members.
The nine African-American men and one white woman had been convicted in the 1972 firebombing of a Wilmington, NC, grocery store during civil-rights protests that arose after police shot an African-American teenager. Between the ten, they received combined sentences totaling 282 years in prison.
In the statement released from her office this afternoon, Gov.Perdue, a Democrat, said that she "decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained." That manner was outlined on our show Saturday by host Melissa Harris-Perry, who added her voice to the more than 130,000 who signed their names to petitions delivered to the governor's office:
"...it was so overt that by 1977, at least three witnesses had recanted their testimony. And in 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of the Wilmington Ten—noting that the chief witness lied on the stand and that prosecutors concealed evidence.
And now, according to the NAACP, newly discovered notes from the prosecutor suggest he racially-profiled prospective jurors—writing 'KKK —good' next to some names and referring to at least one black candidate as an 'Uncle Tom.'"
Governor Perdue used similarly strong language about the injustices done in the trial in her pardon:
"This conduct is disgraceful. It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt – not based on race or other forms of prejudice. That did not happen here. Instead, 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."