Thumbs up and down

By: - August 22, 2005 5:29 am

The Herald-Sun
Presented with the cases of two wrongly convicted men last week, Gov. Mike Easley provided a pardon of innocence to one, but declined the other. That means that Leo Waters can receive up to $500,000 for being wrongly imprisoned for 21 years, but Silvester Smith of Brunswick County is out of luck.

Smith was prosecuted by Easley on rape and assault charges in 1984, back when Easley was Brunswick County’s district attorney. Smith thinks the governor can’t admit he made a mistake back then.

The two girls Smith is charged with molesting were 5 and 6 at the time and have since recanted their testimony. Smith won a new trial and the prosecutor dismissed the charges. Waters was freed on a rape charge after being cleared by DNA evidence.

But while Smith claims bias, Easley points out that the state Supreme Court has ruled he cannot dodge or delegate his ruling in the case. Apparently the governor is the only one who can make the call.

It does seem odd that the evidence that freed Smith was good enough to have him released from prison with the charges dropped, but not good enough for Easley to issue a pardon.

We imagine it’s possible that the governor, with his intimate knowledge of the case, is so convinced Smith is guilty he is unable to issue a pardon in good conscience. Easley should provide as much information as possible about what led him to the decision.

In any event, Smith, at age 54, is left to struggle to find odd jobs while Waters can receive $20,000 for every year he was incarcerated.

And, since so many old cases have recently been overturned due to new evidence, there is more reason than ever to institute a moratorium on the sentence that can’t ever be revisited — the death penalty.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066