On April 25, 1997, three men entered Quality Finance Company in Princeton, North Carolina and robbed two employees, Alice Wise and Charles Woodward, and a customer, Bertha Miller. During the robbery, Alice Wise, was shot in the chest and face.
Shortly after, Johnston County police arrested Kendrick Henderson based on fingerprint evidence found at the crime scene. Henderson named his two accomplices—Richard Keith Riddick and Riddick’s cousin that he knew only by his first name of “Terence.”
Henderson gave police directions to the apartment in Goldsboro, North Carolina, just over the Johnston County line in neighboring Wayne County where “Terence” and his girlfriend lived.
Johnston County police asked Goldsboro police for help and a search of their records turned up the name of Terence Garner, who had been convicted on a misdemeanor charge for carrying drug paraphernalia.
Woodard was shown a photo lineup and picked out Garner as the gunman. Wise was too distraught to view the lineup. Miller said she recognized Garner, but from the community, not from the robbery.
On June 30, 1997, with Garner’s photo in hand, police went to the address given by Henderson, but no one was home. Police then went to Garner’s mother’s home where they saw Garner and took him into custody.
When Henderson learned that Garner had been arrested, he told police that Garner was not involved in the robbery, but police did not believe him. Riddick accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against Garner.
Wise, who had lost the sight of one eye as a result of the shooting, identified Garner at a bond hearing, as he sat shackled to Henderson wearing prison clothing. Wise later told the prosecutors they had the “right ones.”
Garner went on trial in January 1998 and was identified by Woodard and Wise. Riddick testified as well, saying that he did not have a cousin named Terence and that he had committed the crime with Garner and Henderson.
Garner testified on his own behalf and denied being involved.
After both sides rested their case, Miller was allowed to testify. She said she had attended every day of the trial and she believed that police had failed to arrest the shooter.
On January 27, 1998, Garner, 16, was convicted by a jury of attempted first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, three counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of second degree kidnapping. He was sentenced to 32 to 48 years in prison.
Riddick received four years in prison due to his cooperation.
Soon after, Henderson told Wayne County police that Garner was innocent, prompting those officers to go to the apartment visited previously by Johnston County police. They found Terence DeLoach and during questioning, he admitted participating in the robbery and being the gunman.
DeLoach was taken to Johnston County where he recanted his confession, claiming he had only made the admission after Wayne County police threatened to get his girlfriend evicted from the apartment and arrange for her child to be put with welfare authorities.
Miller was re-interviewed after the case and said that Garner was a friend of her son and she would have recognized him if he had participated in the crime.
A post-conviction motion for a new trial resulted in a hearing where Henderson testified that DeLoach was the third man involved in the crime. Riddick refused to testify, but a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agent testified that Riddick had admitted after the trial that he had a cousin named Terence who was involved in the crime with him and Henderson.
Prosecutors presented the testimony of Woodard and Wise, who said Garner was the gunman. The motion for new trial was denied on February 23, 1998.
Garner lost his appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals on December 21, 1999 and the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to review the case.
In July 2001, a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus was filed alleging the prosecution knew Riddick had testified falsely but failed to correct it.
In January 2002, while the petition was pending, PBS aired a Frontline documentary produced by Ofra Bikel entitled “An Ordinary Crime” which featured an interview with Riddick saying that Garner was not involved in the crime.
Public anger over the case prompted the trial judge to be recused and a new judge assigned to the case. Garner took a polygraph examination at the request of prosecutors and passed. On February 11, 2002, he was released on bond.
The prosecution commenced a re-investigation of the case and three alibi witnesses for Garner were located—none of whom had been called to testify at his Garner’s trial. An inmate was located who said that Riddick admitted he was going to lie at trial to implicate Garner in order to preserve his plea agreement.
On June 11, 2002, Johnston County District Attorney Tom Lock, who had prosecuted Garner at trial, dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley