Charles Ray Finch, 81, has been exonerated after having been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a robbery and murder in North Carolina.

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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that Mr. Finch is “actually innocent” of the robbery-murder of a grocery store clerk for which he was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in 1976. The court found out that the forensic testimony used was unreliable.

The eyewitness, who “had cognitive issues, struggled with alcoholism and had issues with short-term memory recall,” never told authorities the suspect has facial hair, and Finch does. The witness changed his description to match Finch’s during his testimony at trial.


Additionally, Finch’s lawyer provided evidence that the store clerk was killed with a pistol, not a shotgun. And evidence contradicted the prosecution’s claims that shells found at the crime scene matched a shotgun shell found in Mr. Finch’s car.

“This new evidence,” the federal appeals court concluded, “not only undercuts the state’s physical evidence, but it also discredits the reliability of Jones.”

In May a federal court judge ordered for Charles Ray Finch to be released and then dropped all charges in June.

Mr. Finch’s attorney, Jim Coleman, said he asked every major state official to review the case for more than 15 years. “The worst thing that we encounter in the work that we do are indifferent officials—police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors and judges—who think that justice has been done when there is a conviction, and nothing that happens after a conviction matters,” he said.

Finch, who was unable to walk out on his own, was rolled out in a wheelchair.