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Ann Shepard

Other North Carolina Cases
In the fall of 1970 and into the early weeks of 1971, black students who were forced to attend an all-white high school after their all-black high school was closed in Wilmington, North Carolina, began a series of protests to push for equal access to student affairs and activities.

During the first week of February 1971, black students conducted a full-scale walkout and boycott of the schools after school administrators refused to consider any of their proposals. On February 3, the students convened a community meeting at the Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ. In response to a call for assistance from the pastor of the church, the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice sent 23-year-old Rev. Benjamin Chavis Jr. to advise the students, their parents, and other community members.

On February 4, after a meeting with school officials was unsuccessful, the group returned to the church for a community rally. During the rally, carloads of white men drove past the church and fired weapons into the sanctuary. A telephone call to the church warned a bombing was imminent. The situation escalated when some students and residents retrieved guns and returned to the church to protect it.

Over the next three nights, similar attacks were carried out on the church. The city of Wilmington exploded in a series of fire-bombings and gunfire during which several people were killed and millions of dollars in damage was inflicted.

On February 6, Mike’s Grocery, a white-owned business, was firebombed. Firefighters who responded to the blaze said that a sniper shot at them from the roof of the nearby Gregory Congregational Church. The National Guard was called in to quell the rioting and to clear out the church.

A year later, Chavis and nine others were charged with the firebombing of Mike’s Grocery and with shooting at the firefighters who responded to the fire. Charged with Chavis were 19-year-old Marvin Patrick, 21-year-old Connie Tindall, 19-year-old Jerry Jacobs, 18-year-old Wayne Moore, 18-year-old Reginald Epps, 19-year-old James McKoy, 18-year-old Willie Vereen, 19-year-old William Wright, Jr., and 35-year-old Ann Shepard, an anti-poverty worker. Shepard was white and the other nine were black.

The group became known as the Wilmington Ten.

Because of publicity and massive protests, the trial was moved from New Hanover County to Pender County Superior Court.  Jury selection began in June 1972. After a week, a jury of 10 blacks and two whites was selected, but a mistrial was declared when the prosecutor mysteriously fell ill.

The second trial began in September 1972. By that time, the North Carolina legislature had changed the jury selection method and as a result, the prosecution used discretionary challenges to exclude prospective black jurors. In contrast to the first jury, this jury was made up of 10 whites and two blacks.

The prosecution’s primary witness was 17-year-old Allen Hall, who had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution after his own conviction for taking part in the violence. Hall testified that he and other students conducted fire-bombings and shot at police in a series of attacks that followed a training session conducted by Chavis at Gregory Congregational Church. Hall was the only witness to identify the 10 defendants as taking part in the violence.

Two other witnesses, 17-year-old Jerome Mitchell, a convicted felon and high school dropout, and 12-year-old Eric Junius, a junior high school dropout, provided testimony that supported Hall. Their testimony did not, however, specifically identify the defendants.

Defense attorneys cross-examined Hall about significant contradictions between his trial testimony and two pre-trial statements that he gave to the prosecution. Hall said he had amended his original statements during a subsequent interview with the prosecutor. The cross-examination became so contentious that Hall came off the witness stand at one point and attempted to physically attack one of the defense lawyers.

The defense sought to obtain documents from the session during which Hall said he amended his statements, but the prosecution refused to disclose them and the judge declined to order the documents be turned over.

On October 17, 1972, the jury convicted the defendants of conspiracy to assault emergency personnel and conspiracy to burn property with incendiary devices. Chavis was sentenced to 34 years in prison. Tindall was sentenced to 31 years. Patrick, Moore, Jacobs, McKoy, Vereen and Wright were each sentenced to 29 years. Epps was sentenced to 28 years. Shepard, who was convicted of a reduced charge of being an accessory before the crime, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld their convictions in 1974.

In 1975, Hall recanted his testimony and admitted he had lied because of inducements provided by the prosecution. Mitchell and Junius later recanted their testimony as well.

A motion for appropriate relief was filed on behalf of the defendants.  Following a hearing, judge concluded that the recantations were not credible and denied the motion.

The defendants filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In December 1980, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals vacated the convictions of all defendants and ordered a new trial. The appeals court found that the prosecution had failed to provide the defense with evidence that impeached the credibility of Hall and Junius.

The court held that the prosecution should have provided the statements from the session during which Hall said he corrected his prior statement. The withheld statements showed that Hall had lied to the jury. In fact, Hall claimed at trial that he corrected 17 portions of his initial statement during the meeting with the prosecution, but the documents showed that 13 of those changes did not exist.

The appeals court further ruled that the prosecution knew Hall was testifying falsely, and that it deliberately withheld evidence that the prosecution had paid for a trip for Hall’s girlfriend and provided a mini-bike to Junius.

The court also found that the trial judge had erroneously prevented the defense from cross-examining Hall, Mitchell and Junius about favorable treatment they received before trial. Although they were serving prison terms at that time, the prosecution had taken them out of prison and housed them in a motel and a beach house.

By that time, all of the defendants except Chavis had been released on parole. Chavis was released in January 1981.

The prosecution never sought to retry the defendants, but nevertheless never dismissed the charges.

More than 30 years later, in May 2012, a petition for pardon was filed with North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue. The petition said that as a result of the prosecution’s “knowing use of perjured testimony, the state of North Carolina fraudulently procured the convictions of ten innocent North Carolina citizens.” The petition noted that a friend of the court brief signed by 55 members of the U.S. House of Representatives had been filed in the federal habeas case.

On December 31, 2012, more than 40 years after Chavis and the others were convicted, Perdue granted pardons on the basis of actual innocence.

In issuing the pardons, Perdue noted that “last month, new evidence was made available to me in the form of handwritten notes from the prosecutor who picked the jury at trial. These notes show with disturbing clarity the dominant role that racism played in jury selection. The notes reveal that certain white jurors believed to be Ku Klux Klan members were described by the prosecutor as 'good' and that at least one African American juror was noted to be an 'Uncle Tom type.' This conduct is disgraceful. It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear."

By that time, four of the Wilmington Ten were dead. Jerry Jacobs had died in 1989. William Wright died in 1990. Ann Shepard died in 2011 and Connie Tindall died in August 2012—four months before the pardon was granted.

In May 2013, the state granted compensation to the living members of the group. Chavis was awarded $244,000, Patrick was awarded $187,000, and Moore, Vereen, McKoy and Epps each received about $175,000. The state declined to grant compensation to the families of Wright, Jacobs, Shepard and Tindall. The families filed a lawsuit challenging the denial and lost.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/17/2016
Last Updated: 2/10/2019
State:North Carolina
County:New Hanover
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1971
Sentence:15 years
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No