Charles Ray Finch is finally free. But after serving 43 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, he left state custody with little more than the clothes on his back.
No mortal can return to Finch the four decades of freedom our justice system took from him. But state law allows people exonerated of felony convictions to receive financial compensation that helps them reestablish their lives. The process starts with the governor’s pardon pen.
N.C. General Statute 148-82 requires a pardon of innocence from the governor in order to “petition a claim against the state for the pecuniary loss sustained by the person through his or her erroneous conviction or imprisonment.”
With a pardon in hand, exonerees take their petition to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which schedules a hearing. The state attorney general has the option of opposing the petition. If a claim is granted, pardoned individuals receive $50,000 for each year they spent wrongfully incarcerated up to a maximum of $750,000.
Finch was released from Greene Correctional Institution on May 23 after a federal judge vacated his murder conviction in the 1976 killing of Ray “Shadow” Holloman, a Wilson County shopkeeper who was gunned down during a failed robbery. His attorneys from the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic showed the ballistics evidence used to convict him was inaccurate and the eyewitness identification that resulted in his arrest stemmed from a suggestive police lineup.
In May 2018, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Finch had demonstrated his innocence and sent his case back to U.S. District Court, where Judge Terrence Boyle threw out the verdict and ordered his release.
The final domino fell last week when Wilson County District Attorney Robert Evans’ office dismissed all charges against Finch, ensuring there will not be another trial.
“The reason the state cannot retry Ray is there is no evidence,” Duke University law professor and Wrongful Convictions Clinic director Jim Coleman told Wilson Times reporter Olivia Neeley. “He is innocent.”
Finch has been exonerated, but the state justice system that railroaded him and locked him away for 43 years has done nothing to make amends for its systemic failures. A pardon would begin the process of making things right — or at least as right as they can be.
Duke lawyers are seeking a pardon on Finch’s behalf. We call on Gov. Roy Cooper to grant the request and do so expediently. Finch’s future prospects depend largely on the prosecutorial system’s willingness to concede its past shortcomings with humility and provide restorative justice for this innocent man. Finch is North Carolina’s longest-serving inmate to have a conviction overturned in the state or federal courts.
The $750,000 in compensation Finch stands to receive may seem like a windfall, but that sum works out to just $17,442 for each year he spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. At 81 years old and in ailing health, Finch deserves the chance to live out his last years in comfort with the family of whose company he’s been too long deprived.
Cooper has the opportunity to help right a historic wrong. Pardon Ray Finch without delay.