Cooper pardons 82-year-old ex-death row inmate who spent more than 40 years behind bars

WILSON, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper granted a pardon Wednesday to a man who was once on death row for a shopkeeper’s slaying and spent more than 40 years in prison before he was released.

In 1976, Finch was convicted of fatally shooting a gas station owner in a botched robbery.

“I have carefully reviewed Charles Ray Finch’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence. Mr. Finch and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged,” Gov. Cooper said in a news release.

>> Read the full pardon order here.

Finch was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Richard Holloman, who was shot inside his country store on Feb. 13, 1976, in an attempted robbery. Finch was sentenced to die, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, but the N.C. Supreme Court reduced his sentence to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty law was unconstitutional.

In May 2019, a federal judge ordered Finch’s release based on a re-investigation of the evidence used against him.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in January 2019 that it was unlikely that jurors would have convicted Finch if they had known about flaws in a police lineup and questions about key witness testimony. WNCN-TV reported at the time that a person had said the killer was wearing a three-quarter length jacket. Finch said a detective had him wear a coat in the police lineup — and Finch was the only one wearing a coat in that lineup.

The three-judge panel returned the case to federal district court for a fresh look at innocence claims that the lower court previously dismissed because of technical reasons including timeliness. The unanimous opinion said Finch succeeded in “demonstrating that the totality of the evidence, both old and new, would likely fail to convince any reasonable juror of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Finch’s conviction was overturned and prosecutors chose not to retry him. He was released from prison in May 2019.

Finch filed a lawsuit against Wilson County, its sheriff, two former deputies and two staff members at the state Bureau of Investigation.

The lawsuit accused the agencies of corruption, alleging that the former deputies framed Finch for murder and that an SBI agent covered for the sheriff’s office and that an SBI general counsel later hid evidence that would have cleared Finch.

The pardon makes Finch eligible to file a claim under North Carolina law, which allows compensation to persons wrongly convicted of felonies.

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