New trial granted for man sentenced to death for New Hanover County murder

New trial granted for man sentenced to death for New Hanover County murder
Keith Wiley (Source: New Hanover County Sheriff's Office)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A man sentenced to death in a New Hanover County courtroom more than 20 years ago has been granted a new trial.

In May 1999, Keith Wiley was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Ritchie Futrelle. Wiley, who also was found guilty of kidnapping and armed robbery charges, was sentenced to death.

On Friday, the District Attorney’s Office announced that it has been notified that Judge Kent Harrell has granted a motion of appropriate relief filed on behalf of Wiley.

“Judge Harrell’s order vacates the jury’s conviction and sentence, granting Wiley a new trial,” the DA’s Office said in a news release. “He will be returned from Central Prison to the New Hanover County Jail as he awaits this new trial. This converts the case to pending status, limiting the comments that my office can make about this case. We are actively reviewing the file and will determine how to proceed with the prosecution in the coming months.”

Wiley is scheduled to appear in New Hanover County Superior Court on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

According to online court records, Wiley, on the morning of Oct. 27, 1997, plotted to kill Futrelle because Futrelle owed him $20-25 for some cocaine. Wiley invited Futrelle to his home where he assaulted him and tied him up.

Wiley and another man, Justin Pallas, put Futrelle in the trunk of a car and drove to a remote area of Murrayville Road where they fatally shot Futrelle.

The court order granting Wiley a new trial states that errors made by the trial judge and Wiley’s subsequent appeal lawyer are the basis for another trial.

According to the order, after the trial jury was impaneled, one of the jurors alerted the court that two of his family members knew Futrelle’s mother some 12 to 14 years ago through a family business in Carolina Beach. After the juror was questioned by the prosecution and the defense, Wiley’s lawyer moved to use their last remaining peremptory strike to remove the juror.

The trial judge denied the defense’s challenge. Judge Harrell determined that “the court’s refusal to allow counsel for the defendant to exercise a remaining peremptory challenge constituted error.”

Harrell also ruled that Wiley’s appellate counsel was “ineffective” for not bringing up the denial of the peremptory strike during subsequent appeals, stating there was a “reasonable probability” Wiley would have prevailed on his appeal but for his counsel’s “unreasonable failure” to raise the issue.

“The awarding of a new trial is the only adequate remedy to address the error in jury selection,” Harrell wrote in the court order.

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