Charles Ray Finch, who spent 43 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder, has filed a lawsuit against the Wilson sheriff’s office for allegedly framing him.
Finch, now 82, was released from prison in May after a federal appeals court determined that he didn’t get a fair trial because of a flawed lineup police used to obtain an eyewitness identification of Finch as the suspected killer.
The lawsuit accuses former Wilson County Sheriff Wilbur Robin Pridgen and former deputies Tony Owens and James Tant of framing Finch in the murder of Richard Holloman.
Holloman was fatally shot during an attempted robbery at his store. Finch was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death in 1976.
“Mr. Finch’s conviction, death sentence and imprisonment were not the result of mistake, negligence or incompetence,” the lawsuit states. “They were the direct result of the intentional and/or reckless misconduct of members of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department.”
Jim Coleman, a professor at Duke University Lawsuit and co-director of Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, worked on Finch’s case for over 15 years.
“If it was going to result in the judges being defensive about the corruption, then what we thought was, let’s just focus on the evidence and the misconduct involving the evidence and not put it in any broader context,” Coleman said.
Coleman said it took years to clear Finch’s name because his lawyers were working against resistance from prosecutors and officials who defended the original conviction.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found several issues with the evidence used to convict Finch. They said he was subjected to suggestive lineups because he was the only person wearing a jacket similar to one a witness to the shooting said the gunman was wearing.
A review of the autopsy concluded that Holloman had been shot with a pistol, not a shotgun as the witness said.
Coleman said he still talks to Finch, who suffers from various medical ailments.
“He is obviously very happy to be out of prison,” Coleman said.
When Finch left prison in May, “he was able to hold his head up because he had been right,” Coleman added.
Finch has requested a trial to determine compensation and punitive damages.