Compensation sought by families of Wilmington 10

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 10:33 PM

RALEIGH — The families of late members of the wrongly convicted group known as the Wilmington 10 say they should be treated like the surviving members and receive payments from North Carolina.

Six people have been awarded compensation totaling $1.1 million by the state Industrial Commission. But the state Attorney General's Office has said family members of the other four do not meet compensation qualifications. The Insider news service reported Thursday that lawyers for four families argue they should not be treated differently.

In late 2012, then-Gov. Beverly Perdue gave pardons of innocence to the Wilmington 10, who were imprisoned for the 1971 firebombing of a grocery store during three days of violence that included the shooting of a black teenager by police.

Their sentences were commuted by then-Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978. State law allows $50,000 payments for each year someone receiving a pardon was wrongly imprisoned, capped at $750,000.

"When an innocent person has had his or her liberty and a portion of their life stolen from them as they are incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, justice demands acknowledgement of that wrong and compensation for the harm suffered," reads a document filed in October by James Ferguson II and Irving Joyner, attorneys for the families of the four deceased members. "The harm lives on after death — especially in the lives of impacted loved ones."

Attorney General Roy Cooper's office said the law refers specifically to a "person" being eligible for the payments.

"The plain meaning of this statute is clear and unambiguous, and does not require speculative construction or interpretation," says a memo filed by Cooper's office. Other state Department of Justice filings contend a broad reading of the law could force the state to make payments to descendants of someone pardoned decades after the person died.

A deputy commissioner with the Industrial Commission denied a motion in late October to dismiss the claims of the families of the four deceased members — Jerry Jacobs, Ann Shephard, Connie Tindall and Joe Wright. Cooper's office is appealing the ruling to the full commission.

Claims for Benjamin Chavis, Reginald Epps, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick and Willie Earl Vereen were previously approved by the commission and signed off on by Cooper's office. Chavis received $244,470 and Patrick $187,984, while most of the other awards were around $175,000, the Insider reported.