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Our Opinion: City, county boards should show support for Ray Finch pardon

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Usually they are ceremonial. Occasionally they’re controversial. And once in a blue moon, they can move mountains with an appeal to the human conscience that cries out for justice.

Resolutions are a written record of a deliberative or legislative body’s formal stance. Often, they designate a day, week or month for a worthy cause, such as a town board’s vote to recognize American Heart Month and publicize heart disease prevention. For such routine and agreeable matters, votes are unanimous. But the versatile policy statements can also make waves.

A resolution “is usually employed to denote the adoption of a motion, the subject matter of which would not properly constitute a statute; such as a mere expression of opinion; an alteration of the rules; a vote of thanks or of censure, etc.,” Black’s Law Dictionary explains.

By adopting a resolution, local leaders can marshal their influence to speak on behalf of the communities they represent and advocate for action at higher levels of government. Such a time of necessity has arrived in Wilson County.

Attorneys for Charles Ray Finch, the Wilson man freed from prison May 23 after he was fully exonerated of a 1976 murder conviction, are petitioning Gov. Roy Cooper for a pardon of innocence that would allow Finch to seek $750,000 in compensation for the four decades he was wrongfully incarcerated.

Resolutions from the Wilson City Council and Wilson County Board of Commissioners could help convince Cooper to grant Finch’s pardon by showing that this innocent man enjoys the support of his community and the elected officials entrusted with leading it.

“We hope the public will find a way to show its support for a pardon,” Duke University law professor and Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic director Jim Coleman told Times reporter Olivia Neeley.

Finch’s neighbors in Wilson County can sign petitions or send letters and emails to the governor’s office, but resolutions stamped with the city and county seals may carry more weight. Perhaps they shouldn’t, as Wilson residents are also state taxpayers, but it isn’t surprising that a local government’s endorsement would have credibility among other government officials.

It wouldn’t be the first time these boards have weighed in on state matters — not even in recent history. In October 2017, county commissioners adopted a resolution expressing concern about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing restrictions in the pipeline corridor that amount to a “development dead zone” and the involuntary taking of county residents’ land under the eminent domain process.

Wilson officials have the right and duty to speak on Finch’s behalf. His wrongful conviction happened here and our city and county leaders have a stake in reversing a local injustice and pursuing all available restorative remedies.

Finch was railroaded through the legal system and deprived of his civil rights after a failed robbery that resulted in the death of Black Creek shopkeeper Richard “Shadow” Holloman in February 1976. Under then-Sheriff Robin Pridgen, Wilson County deputies cued witnesses to identify Finch as the trigger man in Holloman’s shooting by staging lineups where Finch was the only man dressed in clothing that matched eyewitness descriptions of the killer.

His alibi wasn’t investigated despite witnesses who put him miles away when the holdup happened, and evidence introduced at trial claiming Holloman was killed with a shotgun matching Finch’s was flat-out wrong — a second autopsy would later reveal a handgun was used in the crime.

There is no controversy or ambiguity about this case. Finch is innocent, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina have said as much in their rulings and orders. City and county officials would not be going out on a limb.

With their stilted, formal language — a series of paragraphs beginning with “whereas” and the final sentence magisterially declaring “be it therefore resolved” — government resolutions can seem like an officious cliché. But the words between that boilerplate can pack a punch.

Wilson and Wilson County have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history and urge our governor to sign a pardon affirming Finch’s innocence. As constituents and voters, don’t let them squander that chance.

The Wilson County Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the county administration building on Miller Road. The Wilson City Council will convene at 7 p.m. July 18 at City Hall.

Tell your commissioners and council members you expect their support for Ray Finch’s pardon.

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