After news came of the Commission's findings, the Durham-based nonprofit Center for Death Penalty Litigation released this statement:
Today’s exoneration by the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission of two men who spent a decade in prison for a murder they did not commit highlights the grave dangers of our capital punishment system. Despite repeatedly declaring their innocence, both men pled guilty to the 2000 murder of Walter Rodney Bowman because they were threatened with the death penalty and feared execution.
“Along with executing an innocent person, coercing a guilty plea with the threat of lethal injection underscores the terrific risk associated with having a death penalty,” said Ken Rose, an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
After seven days of testimony, the three-judge panel found by clear and convincing evidence that Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson were actually innocent of the murders for which they pled guilty in 2003. Evidence presented to the panel included the confession of the murder by another man and DNA testing pointing to other suspects.
“This case highlights the substantial threat that the use of the death penalty poses to innocent persons,” said Rose. “In North Carolina in just the last several years, three innocent men - Edward Chapman, Levon Jones and Jonathon Hoffman - were exonerated from death row. And just last night, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis despite substantial questions about his guilt.”