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Darron Carmon

Other North Carolina Exonerations
At around 9:30 p.m. on October 29, 1993, Robert Thompson, a clerk at the Fresh Way convenience store in Winterville, North Carolina, called 911 and said a man had just robbed the store at gunpoint.

Police quickly arrived. Thompson, who was white and 45 years old, described the robber as a young Black man, about 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall.

Thompson accompanied the two officers to the station, where they showed him mugshots. Thompson selected the photo of 19-year-old Darron Carmon, a college student who had an arrest but no conviction for a non-violent offense. Police, joined by Thompson, then went to the home of Carmon’s parents, who also lived in Winterville, but their son wasn’t there. They talked to Carmon’s girlfriend, who gave the police a description of the Honda he was driving. Police found Carmon at about 4 a.m., in the girlfriend’s Honda, parked in front of a supermarket in the town of Ayden, a few miles south of Winterville.

The officers who had investigated the robbery brought Carmon to the Winterville Police Station. They called Thompson just after arresting Carmon and told him to come to the police station to discuss something. Thompson arrived around 4:30 a.m., went inside and saw Carmon seated at a table. He told the officers, “That’s the guy right there.” He would later testify that he had no idea he would be seeing a suspect when he went to the police station.

Carmon was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon. There was no physical or forensic evidence implicating him in the crime. Police didn’t find a weapon or the $282 Thompson said was taken in the robbery.

Carmon’s trial in Pitt County Superior Court began on January 31, 1994, with Judge W. Russell Duke presiding. During jury selection, which took several days, Carmon’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Edward Wells, made two motions. First, he asked for the district attorney’s office to turn over any exculpatory evidence it possessed. Second, he requested a continuance, telling Judge Duke that he was juggling too many cases and didn’t feel he had been able to give Carmon’s case sufficient attention.

Judge Duke granted the evidence order but not the request for a continuance. Opening statements and testimony began on February 4.

Thompson testified that a man burst into the store and stuck a gun in his face. Asked to describe the man, Thompson said, “Well, it was a Black male about 5 feet 6 inches, 5 feet 8 inches, slender build, oval face; high, kind of arched eyebrows, thin features, not normally as most Black men are; short cropped hair, wearing a navy blue or black hooded sweatshirt, black type pants; very nervous, shaky.”

He later identified Carmon in the courtroom as the man who robbed him.

Thompson also testified about his employment. He said he taught management courses at two local community colleges and had worked as a consultant with Fresh Way before moving over to a clerk’s position. He said the pay from his various jobs was good, as much as $1,000 a day.

Thompson also testified about his background. “I went through extensive training with three major fast-food corporations, being McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell,” he said. “And I’ve also been a certified trainer for Burger King for Eastern North Carolina, at which time we teach management development. And a part of that is safety and security. And during part of the security aspect, as we deal with robbery prevention and armed robbery itself, any kind of robbery. And part of that, we train people how to scan the suspect, how to look for identifying factors, look for weapons, then put these things in your mind so that you can write them down as quickly as possible afterwards, to apprehend the suspect.”

Officer Emanuel Armaos testified about Thompson’s identification of Carmon from a book of photographs. He said Thompson selected Carmon without hesitation. Armaos testified that he, Thompson and Officer Donnie Greene then drove to the home of Carmon’s parents to see if Carmon was there.

The state also presented testimony from the officers involved in arresting Carmon. An officer with the Ayden Police Department said that Carmon was “laying down” inside the car in the parking lot. The officer said Carmon had no money on him and told police that he had been sleeping.

Carmon did not testify, but Wells presented an alibi defense. Thomas Whichard, who lived next to Carmon’s girlfriend, said that on October 29, at around 7 p.m., Carmon had driven him from Ayden to the city of Greenville, a distance of about 11 miles, and then brought him back a little before 11 p.m. During cross-examination, Whichard said that October 29, was a Saturday (it was a Friday), and he also acknowledged a lengthy criminal record.

After Whichard testified, the state recalled Greene, one of the Winterville officers. Greene said that when he questioned Carmon on the morning of October 30 about his whereabouts the night before, Carmon told him that he had been with several friends and ended up at a high school football game. Greene said that Carmon did not mention Whichard or driving to Greenville.

During closing arguments, Wells told jurors that this was a case of mistaken identity, although he also appeared to vouch for Thompson. The prosecution, he said, “Couldn’t ask for any better witness than Mr. Thompson. He’s practically an expert in identifying people.”

The prosecutor said Thompson had made a solid identification, and that Carmon’s actions were consistent with guilt. He said Carmon had been found sleeping in a car, and at the time of his arrest, he had no money on his person. The prosecutor said that was consistent with getting rid of evidence. He also said that Carmon’s alibi didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

The jury convicted Carmon of robbery with a dangerous weapon on February 4, 1994. Prior to sentencing, Judge Duke asked Carmon to turn around, face his parents, who were in court, and tell them why he committed the crime. Maintaining his innocence, Carmon declined to do so. Judge Duke sentenced him to 14 years to 40 years in prison. He was also ordered to make restitution of $282 to the owners of the convenience store and to pay his attorney fees of $550, which Wells said represented 11 hours of work.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed Carmon’s conviction, without comment, in 1995.

Carmon was released from prison on October 25, 2001. His five-year parole period ended early, at the recommendation of his parole officer. Carmon became a minister in Winterville, leading the Rebuild Christian Center Church, with an acclaimed outreach program focused on preventing violence and serving disadvantaged children.

In 2020, Carmon petitioned Governor Roy Cooper for clemency. Numerous friends and community leaders in Pitt County filed letters on his behalf. Separately, his new attorneys filed a series of public-records requests with the Pitt County District Attorney and the Winterville and Ayden police departments for the case files related to Carmon’s arrest and prosecution.

The requests turned up new evidence. The Winterville Police had lifted fingerprints and palm prints from the Fresh Way store on the night Thompson said he was robbed. This evidence was not compared against Carmon’s fingerprints prior to trial and was not given to Wells. Two independent fingerprint examiners said that Carmon was excluded as a contributor.

On June 24, 2021, Carmon filed a motion for appropriate relief in Pitt County Superior Court. The motion said the state had failed to turn over the exculpatory fingerprint evidence, that Thompson had testified falsely about his background and expertise, and that Wells had provided substandard representation by failing to prepare for trial, not adequately challenging Thompson (who died in 2014), and failing to secure other alibi witnesses.

Carmon’s attorneys — Abraham Rubert-Schewel, Emily Gladden, Micheal Littlejohn, and University of North Carolina law student Robertson Dorsett — had obtained a statement from the man who ran the Fresh Way chain at the time Thompson worked there. The man said that the company never hired Thompson as a consultant. Similarly, the owner of the McDonald’s franchises in the Greenville area in the mid-1990s said he never hired security consultants and couldn’t recall ever training employees on what to do during a robbery. Separately, the attorneys had obtained copies of Thompson’s employment records from the community colleges. His pay was $16/hour, making it extremely unlikely he could earn $1,000 in a week.

Whichard had testified that two other men were with him and Carmon. Wells didn’t secure their testimony, and he only located Whichard the night before he took the witness stand. The motion also said that Wells didn’t adequately cross-examine Thompson, not just about his qualifications, but also about gaps in his testimony, such as why people pumping gas at the convenience store didn’t see a robbery.

The motion also said that identifying a suspect from a mugshot is notoriously unreliable, made worse in this instance because the Winterville book of mugshots was a jumble, with people of different ages and races on the same page. The police compounded that problem, first by bringing Thompson to the home of Carmon’s parents, and then by conducting a show-up identification, which can suggest guilt because a suspect is the only one being viewed.

On August 4, 2022, Pitt County District Attorney Faris Dixon Jr. and Carmon’s attorneys filed a consent motion in Pitt County Superior Court to vacate Carmon’s conviction. The consent motion said that the district attorney’s office was unaware at the time of trial about the fingerprints, “but had a continuing duty to inquire with law enforcement about exculpatory evidence.”

The consent motion did not address whether Wells was ineffective, but it said that Thompson’s testimony had been impeached, and the identification procedures used by the Winterville police were “impermissibly suggestive.”

Judge Marvin Blount granted the motion on August 10, 2022, and Dixon dismissed the charge on August 12, 2022.

A week after the dismissal, Carmon held a press conference on the steps of the Pitt County Courthouse. Flanked by his attorneys, Carmon said he would be seeking a pardon from Cooper, which would allow him to receive state compensation for his wrongful conviction.

“The way it works in North Carolina, when you are exonerated and the state concludes [they] made a mistake ... you still are not pardoned,” Carmon said. “You will never be free, and you still have to keep fighting every single day until you get the freedom that you so deserve.”

In March 2023, Carmon filed a federal lawsuit against Wnterville and officers Greene and Armaos seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 9/19/2022
Last Updated: 4/29/2023
State:North Carolina
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:14 to 40 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No