INNOCENCE: North Carolina Exonerates Two Men Who Faced Possible Death Sentences

On September 22, Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson (pictured l. to r.) were exonerated of murder and freed from prison in North Carolina after a special commission ruled they were innocent. The two men spent a decade in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. They have consistently maintained their innocence, claiming that they only pled guilty because they were threatened with the death penalty and feared execution. The exonerations came after a 3-judge panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission found sufficient evidence pointing to the men’s innocence, including a confession from another man and DNA testing that implicated other suspects. Ken Rose, an attorney with the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, said, “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…. This case highlights the substantial threat that the use of the death penalty poses to innocent persons. In North Carolina in just the last several years, three innocent men - Edward Chapman, Levon Jones and Jonathon Hoffman - were exonerated from death row.”

(J. Ostendorff, “Judges free men in Asheville innocence hearing,” Asheville Citizen-Times, September 22, 2011; Statement from the Center for Deaht Penalty Litigation, September 22, 2011). See Innocence.