Our Opinion: Cooper's inaction on Finch pardon prolongs injustice | The Wilson Times
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Our Opinion: Cooper's inaction on Finch pardon prolongs injustice

Posted on May 27, 2021

OpinionEditorials
Ray Finch wants to know why Gov. Roy Cooper hasn't pardoned him yet — two years after he was exonerated in a 1976 murder case that put him behind bars for 43 years.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Ray Finch wants to know why Gov. Roy Cooper hasn't pardoned him yet — two years after he was exonerated in a 1976 murder case that put him behind bars for 43 years.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

If Gov. Roy Cooper acknowledges the fundamental truth in that nearly 400-year-old maxim, he’d be hard-pressed to argue that his inaction on Ray Finch’s pardon petition is anything less than profound injustice.

Two years have ticked away since Finch left Greene Correctional Institution a free man. A federal judge vacated his conviction in Richard “Shadow” Holloman’s 1976 murder after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed his innocence.

A flawed criminal justice system stole 43 years of Finch’s life. He left prison with little more than the clothing on his back.

“They said, ‘We’ll drop him out there, and we don’t care what happens to him,’” Finch told Times reporter Olivia Neeley. “It makes me feel bad.”

Exonerees can seek a maximum of $750,000 in compensation from the N.C. Industrial Commission, but only after the governor issues a pardon of innocence. Duke Wrongful Conviction Clinic attorneys submitted Finch’s name to Cooper for consideration shortly after his release. The petition has since languished in the Executive Mansion.

Cooper has pardoned six people who were wrongfully convicted, and his office won’t tell us how many others have asked for clemency. The review process, if one even exists, is shrouded in secrecy.

Wilson County commissioners voted Monday to approve a $2 million settlement in Finch’s federal lawsuit over his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Payments are structured over the course of a year, and legal fees and mounting expenses will reduce the sum available for Finch’s use.

The money is sorely needed and unquestionably deserved.

Finch wants to seek redress from the state for the wrongs it inflicted. It’s not just about the $750,000 in compensation. He wants the governor’s pardon as a matter of principle.

Cooper’s conspicuous silence on Finch’s case is a stain on his service as North Carolina’s chief executive. But the pardon hasn’t been formally denied. It isn’t too late for our governor to fulfill his duty and see some measure of justice served.

LOCAL SUPPORT NEEDED

State Rep. Linda Cooper-Suggs and her predecessor, Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, both wrote letters to the governor in support of Finch’s pardon. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has voiced concern over the inexplicable two-year delay.

Our local governing bodies — the Wilson County Board of Commissioners and Wilson City Council — have yet to weigh in. It’s time they break their silence and lend their voices to the chorus calling for justice.

Resolutions from both boards could help convince Cooper to grant Finch’s pardon by showing that this innocent man enjoys the support of his community and the elected officials entrusted with leading it.

Finch’s neighbors in Wilson County can sign petitions or send letters and emails to the governor’s office, but resolutions stamped with the city and county seals may carry more weight. Perhaps they shouldn’t, as Wilson residents are also state taxpayers, but it isn’t surprising that a local government’s endorsement would have credibility among other government officials.

There is no controversy or ambiguity about this case. Finch didn’t win his release on a technicality. He is innocent of the crime for which he was imprisoned, and a unanimous three-judge appellate panel and a federal district judge have said as much in their rulings and orders. City and county officials would not be going out on a limb.

Wilson’s council members and commissioners have the right and duty to speak on Finch’s behalf. His wrongful conviction happened here, and our city and county leaders have a stake in reversing a local injustice and pursuing all available restorative remedies.

With their stilted, formal language — a series of paragraphs beginning with “whereas” and the final sentence magisterially declaring “be it therefore resolved” — government resolutions may seem like an officious cliché. But the words between that boilerplate can pack a punch.

Wilson and Wilson County have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history and urge our governor to sign a pardon affirming Finch’s innocence. As constituents and voters, don’t let them squander that chance.

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