Wrongfully Convicted NC Man Freed after Four Decades in Prison

A man sentenced to life in prison and who served 40 years has just been released after he was found innocent. Evidence proved he was wrongly convicted based on a flaw in the police lineup.

81-year-old Charles Ray Finch was once on death row and served 40 years in a North Carolina prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He has maintained his innocence despite a witness identifying him as the killer. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle ordered his release due to evidence casting doubt on his conviction.  

FOUR DECADES AGO...

In 1976, Finch was suspected to have murdered shopkeeper Richard Holloman during a failed robbery attempt. A witness identified him as the killer in a police lineup. He was convicted and sentenced to die. But when the US Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, his sentence was reduced to life in prison.

“When I was picked up, they didn't question me or nothing. They put me there in a lineup. Straight in a lineup. And they put me in a lineup with a black leather coat on."

THE FLAW THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF HIS LIFE

After serving forty years, Finch was found innocent with the help of the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Its co-director, Attorney Theresa Newman confirmed that Finch’s conviction was overturned. Prosecutors have 30 days to decide to retry him.

Finch was exonerated after evidence proved he was mistaken as the killer during a police lineup. The events that led to this was narrated by Finch when he spoke to WNCN after his release.

“When I was picked up, they didn't question me or nothing. They put me there in a lineup. Straight in a lineup. And they put me in a lineup with a black leather coat on."

The witness who identified Finch said the killer was wearing a three-quarter length jacket. Since Finch was the only man in the lineup wearing a coat, the witness immediately identified him.  

“We were able to expose that he had lied about the lineup and he had dressed Ray in a coat, and he was the only one wearing a coat in the lineup.”

Attorney Jim Coleman, also a co-director of Duke Wrongful Convictions said the highlight of the hearing was when they were able to prove the flaw in the lineup.

“We were able to expose that he had lied about the lineup and he had dressed Ray in a coat, and he was the only one wearing a coat in the lineup.”

ROAD TO FREEDOM 

In January, the 4thU.S. District Court of Appeal confirmed that Finch wouldn’t have been convicted if it had known about the flaws in the police lineup. This prompted the institution to forward Finch’s case to the federal district court for consideration. In the past, the lower court dismissed previous efforts to hear Finch’s case due to several technical reasons, one of which was untimeliness. 

"He might have known what he said but the good book said forgive him and that's what I did. I forgive him."

On Thursday, Finch was finally released from Greene Correctional Institution and was reunited with his family who picked him up along with Attorney Coleman. Video coverage of his release showed him leaving the facility wearing all white and in sunglasses. He was on a wheelchair and reportedly headed to Wilson.

ON MIRACLES AND FORGIVENESS

Finch said he has forgiven the man who identified him as the murderer.

"I'll just say I forgive him because he didn't know what he was doing. He might have known what he said but the good book said forgive him and that's what I did. I forgive him."

Meanwhile, his daughter, Kay Jones Bailey is happy that her father is finally free.

"I knew the miracle was going to happen just didn't know when. It's been worth the wait. It's been worth the fight," she said.

A RECORD-BREAKING WRONGFUL CONVICTION

Finch’s release comes in the heels of another inmate who, like Finch, served decades in prison for a wrongful conviction.

Richard Phillips served 45 years for a murder he didn’t commit. He was released this month with the help of law students from the University of Michigan who proved he was not the murderer. Phillips holds the record of spending the longest time in prison as an innocent man. Upon his release, he was awarded $1.5 million in compensation for the life he lost behind bars. 

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