RALEIGH — The push to get pardons for the Wilmington 10 continued Friday, with one member of the group bringing petitions with 14,000 signatures on them to the governor's office.
"I just knew that they would find out that we were innocent or speaking for myself, I was innocent but that never came about," Willie Earl Vereen said Friday. "We were conspired against. We weren't the conspirators."
Vereen handed over the petitions at the office of Gov. Beverly Perdue. He was among the nine men and one woman convicted in 1972 of the firebombing of a white-owned grocery store in predominantly black area of Wilmington. That fire followed the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer.
Vereen, who wasn't in New Hanover County when the store burned, spent five years in prison before he was released. Four members of the Wilmington 10, including Ann Shepherd, have since died.
Her daughter, Judy Mack, wants justice for all of them. "They're just asking simply that the truth finally come out, for them to be apologized (to) and granted a pardon, and I think it's long overdue," Mack said.
Then-Gov. Jim Hunt refused to pardon the group in 1977 but did commute their sentences. Three key witnesses eventually recanted their testimony. In 1980, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the convictions, citing prosecutorial misconduct and perjury.
Last week, advocates for the Wilmington 10 said they believed newly uncovered notes show the prosecution tried to keep blacks off the jury and seat whites he thought were sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan.
The state chapter of the NAACP showed the notes on a poster board at a news conference Tuesday, saying the handwriting on the legal paper appeared to match notes from other prosecution records in the case.
At the top of the list of 100 jurors, the notes said, "stay away from black men." A capital "B'' was beside the names of black jurors. The notes identify one potential black juror as a "Uncle Tom type" and beside the names of several white people, notations include "KKK?" and "good!!"
Perdue, who leaves office in early January, hasn't said when she'll decide on a pardon.