NC court denies money for family of late Wilmington 10 members

Published: Aug. 4, 2015 at 2:47 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2015 at 2:47 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - The North Carolina Court of Appeals declined to award compensation to the estates of the deceased members of the Wilmington Ten who were wrongfully convicted in 1972.

The unanimous decision, handed down Tuesday morning, says section 148-82 of the Workers' Compensation Act doesn't allow for compensation for those wrongfully convicted based on posthumous pardons of innocence.

On Feb. 6, 1971, Mike's Grocery Store in Wilmington was firebombed, and the perpetrators attacked police and fire crews who responded to the scene.

Jerry Jacobs, Ann Shepard, Connie Tindall, and Joe Wright, along with six others, known as the Wilmington Ten, were arrested, convicted, and sentenced in 1972.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned their convictions in 1980 saying the Wilmington Ten were denied their constitutional right to due process of law through gross prosecutorial misconduct and a myriad of legal errors during their trial.

Former North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue issued pardons for the Wilmington Ten on Dec. 31, 2012, including posthumous pardons to the deceased Jacobs, Shepard, Tindall, and Wright.

Perdue said the prosecutorial misconduct was "utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear."

The surviving members of the Wilmington Ten filed petitions with the North Carolina Industrial Commission in Feb. 2013 seeking compensation due to persons erroneously convicted of felonies.

The state compensated the surviving members, but looked to dismiss the claims of the deceased.

J. Brad Donovan, deputy commissioner of the NC Industrial Commission, denied the state's motion concluding that the legislative purpose of section 148-82 of the Workers' Compensation Act was to compensate those wrongfully imprisoned, regardless of whether the pardon was issued posthumously.

The state appealed to the full commission, which reversed Donovan's decision. Commissioner Linda Cheatham says that the language of section 148-82 was clear; the plaintiffs didn't meet the statutory conditions necessary because they were not pardoned before their deaths.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals' unanimous ruling means there is no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Copyright 2015 WECT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.