In 1932, Joe Horne (also referred to as Poe Horne) and three other men from High Point, North Carolina, were arrested in connection with a Denton, North Carolina bank robbery that took place on September 6, 1932. Although Horne and his three co-defendants – Walter Bridgeman, Sylvian Palmer (also referenced as Sylvan Palmer), and Victor Fowler (also referenced as Eddie Victor Fowler) – offered evidence to support their claims that they were all in locations other than Denton on the day of the crime, they were convicted. On December 6, 1932, the four men were each sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
In 1934, two convicted murderers, Mike Stefanoff and Lester Green, were executed by the state. Prior to their executions, both Green and Stefanoff confessed that they had been involved in the Denton bank robbery and that the four men who had been convicted were not involved in the crime. In addition, Stefanoff’s confession stated that two current and two former High Point police officers had been complicit in the robbery and/or were protecting the true robbers. One of the former officers implicated by Stefanoff was named Ben Lowe.
In early 1935, former High Point police officer Ben Lowe confessed that he had been involved in the Denton bank robbery. He admitted that he had been shot as he fled the bank during the robbery, and records confirmed that he had been treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound that night.
On March 27, 1935, Joe Horne was hit in the head with an axe by another prisoner and died soon after. Less than a month after Horne’s violent death, Bridgeman, Palmer, and Fowler were released from prison on the basis of Lowe’s confession.
Upon “satisfactory proof that they were innocent of the crime and felony for which they had been convicted and imprisoned,” the governor of North Carolina pardoned Bridgeman, Palmer, and Fowler on April 17, 1935, and Joe Horne received a posthumous pardon. On May 10, 1935, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to restore the full citizenship of Bridgeman, Palmer and Fowler. In 1947, Palmer and Fowler each received just over $1,000 from the state as compensation for their wrongful imprisonment.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.