RALEIGH, N.C. — An 82-year-old North Carolina man is suing authorities over a wrongful murder conviction that kept him behind bars for 43 years.
The federal lawsuit by Charles Ray Finch was filed Wednesday against Wilson County, its current sheriff, two former deputies and two staffers of the state Bureau of Investigation, The News & Observer reported.
It accuses the agencies of corruption, alleging that former deputies Tony Owens and James Tant framed Finch for murder, SBI agent Alan McMahan covered for the sheriff's office and SBI general counsel John Watters later hid evidence that would have cleared Finch.
In 1976, Finch was convicted of fatally shooting a gas station owner in a botched robbery. Three years later, then-Sheriff W. Robin Pridgen was convicted of federal racketeering charges, having looked the other way in a brothel scheme in exchange for bribes.
The lawsuit cites the federal investigation that found Pridgen's office would identify businesses with large amounts of cash on hand and then organize robberies, with the cash split between the parties. And that's what happened at the gas station when the robbery went wrong, the lawsuit alleges. Finch was blamed because of bad blood between him and one of the deputies, it says.
Shortly after the then-sheriff was convicted, Finch tried to have his sentence vacated and was thwarted by the state agency's general counsel, who refused to release agency files for years, the lawsuit alleges. Finch was freed this year after a 15-year investigation by Duke University's Wrongful Conviction Clinic.
Now dealing with cancer and the aftereffects of a stroke, Finch is seeking compensation and a jury trial.
When reached for comment about the lawsuit, assistant county manager Ron Hunt said the county hadn’t been aware of it. It’s unclear if the newspaper contacted the other defendants for comment.