On Thursday, Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson were exonerated by the country’s only state agency dedicated to investigating innocence claims, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. 11 years ago, Kagonyera and Wilcoxson pled guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Walter Bowman to avoid the death penalty or life imprisonment. Bowman was killed when gunmen wearing bandanas stormed into his house. Six men were charged in Bowman’s death, five of whom pled guilty. Charges against the sixth man were dropped. The other three men who pled guilty have completed their sentences.
In 2003, a federal prisoner confessed his involvement in Bowman’s death and implicated two other men. DNA from a bandana found at the scene implicated one of these men and excluded all five of the suspects who pled guilty, including Kagonyera and Wilcoxson.
More states should follow North Carolina’s lead in establishing a state agency dedicated to investigating cases of potential innocence. As Mary Pollard, director of North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, said:
“I think it’s interesting that this exoneration comes the day after the Troy Davis execution in Georgia . . . . We’re lucky to live in a state that, like any human system, admits we’re not perfect here and we provide avenues for folks to get relief if they were wrongly convicted.”