RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Charles Ray Finch’s family cheered as they follow him outside the courthouse in Raleigh. After 43 years in prison, the former death row inmate was freed in 2019 after a wrongful murder conviction.
More than a year later, there were more cheers from a different family as Ronnie Long was freed following 44 years behind bars due to a wrongful rape conviction. Those battles have been won, but both men now fight for a pardon.
“I would say these men are deserving individuals whose lives were taken away from them by the state of North Carolina and, in many instances, by misconduct by state actors on behalf of the state of North Carolina,” said Jamie Lau, who represents the two men. “They’re deserving to gain some stability and security into the future.”
Lau and his team at the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic and the Duke Law Innocence Project worked years to prove their innocence. Their job is not done.
The issue of clemency or a pardon of innocence is paramount. Without it, they can’t be reimbursed for the time they were in prison. Finch is in his 80s and Long is in his 60s. They aren’t exactly able to join the workforce. Finch’s payout would be in excess of $700,000.
It’s all up to Gov. Roy Cooper, but Cooper’s record doesn’t encourage Lau.
“Regrettably, Gov. Cooper hasn’t acted in a single clemency case — whether or not it’s a pardon request, a commutation request, or a reprieve being requested,” Lau said. “(Those) are all powers vested in the governor by the North Carolina Constitution.”
Cooper would be the first North Carolina governor in 40 years to not grant clemency in his first term. While Govs. Hunt, Martin, Easley, Perdue, and McCrory — representing Democrats and Republicans — all did.
Article III, sec. 5 (6) of the North Carolina Constitution gives the governor power to grant a pardon for any conviction of any criminal offense other than impeachment. State law allows for $50,000 for each year of imprisonment with a cap of $750,000.
“When you just look at the individuals who we have pending with pardon requests to the governor, including Ronnie Long, it is 136 total years lost for wrongful incarceration by the state of North Carolina and zero dollars in compensation,” said Lau.
That doesn’t include the other wrongfully convicted people waiting for the same thing.
A request for the number of pending cases from the Governor’s Clemency Office has not yet been answered, nor has a response been provided from Cooper.
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