A North Carolina man who was once on death row for a shopkeeper’s slaying won’t be retried in the case that put him behind bars for more than 40 years.
The prosecutor filed a dismissal notice in the case of 81-year-old Charles Ray Finch of Wilson, who was released last month from Greene Correctional Institution in Maury.
In the notice dated June 14, Wilson County District Attorney Robert Evans wrote that a retrial of the 1976 case is “impractical/impossible” because witnesses are dead, retired or relocated. Attorney Theresa Newman of the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic, which handled Finch’s appeals, said his lawyers learned Tuesday that the charges had been dismissed.
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 originally was sentenced to die but the state Supreme Court reduced his sentence to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled North Carolina’s death penalty law unconstitutional.
In January, an appeals court ruled that evidence cast doubt on Finch’s murder conviction. A flawed police lineup was one reason that the conviction was overturned. The eyewitness who identified Finch said the killer was wearing a jacket. A detective had Finch wear a coat in the police lineup — and Finch was the only one wearing a coat in that lineup.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that it was unlikely that jurors would have convicted Finch had they known about the flaws in the lineup and questions about key witness testimony. 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.”
On May 23, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle ordered that Finch be freed. He was released later that same day, leaving the prison in a wheelchair. He was greeted by family and lawyers who took him home to Wilson.
Throughout, Finch had maintained his innocence.