Man convicted of 1976 Wilson murder awaits a new day in court - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Man convicted of 1976 Wilson murder awaits a new day in court

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After 37 years in prison, a Wilson man, convicted of murder, may get a chance at freedom.

In 1976, Charles Ray Finch was sentenced to death for the murder of Holloman’s Store owner, Richard Holloman.

On Feb. 13th, three men came to Holloman’s Store just as Holloman and a store employee were closing up. One of the men asked for some Alka Seltzer and went in the store with Holloman and the employee. When Holloman reached for the Seltzer, the man pulled out a sawed off shotgun and demanded money. Holloman, who investigators say usually carried a weapon, didn’t go down easy and reached for his gun.  Holloman was shot in the upper body and later died at the hospital. The three men drove off.
 
Tony Owens, a chief deputy at the time, led the investigation.  Owen says, based on the store employee, Lester Jones’ statement, he and his deputies started looking for the car the men responsible were driving that night.

Thirty minutes later, deputies stopped Finch in his car, which they say fit the description.  Finch was read his rights and taken in for questioning. Owens says Finch allowed him to search his car and put in him in lineup.

“Inside his car I found one buck shotgun shell in the driver’s door," said Owens. “Mr. Jones didn't hesitate, he said 'That's the man that was here yesterday, that's the man that was here tonight. He's was the man that had the shotgun. He's the man that killed Mr. Holloman," said Owens.

So, Finch was charged with murder.

On June 28th, 1976, just four months after his arrest, a jury convicted Finch and sentenced him to death.  That same week the United States Supreme Court ruled North Carolina’s death penalty unconstitutional. Finch’s death sentence was changed to life in prison. 

Since his trial, Finch and his family have maintained his innocence. Finch attempted to get a hearing on his own, but after numerous denials, he wrote the Innocence Project at Duke University’s School of Law. In 2001, the Innocence Project started investigating his case.

After years of investigating, the case was turned over to the University’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, a clinic that since 2010 has freed four men after getting their convictions overturned. It’s the outcome Finch, his family, and one of his Wrongful Convictions Clinic attorneys’s, Jaime Lau, are hoping to get in his case.

“In Ray's case, we were able to develop that evidence that we think should provide him relief in court. We think we've already shown, in the prior hearing that we had, that his conviction should be vacated and he should be free," said Lau.

Owens, the original investigator at the time, does not agree and says he still believes Finch killed Holloman.

“I feel like everything I did that night was right, with the law that I had to work with. The positive I.D., with the shotgun shell, description of car, everything pointed to Ray Finch. If I had had any doubt at all, any, I wasn't going to send an innocent man to prison, no way," said Owens.

In November, Finch received a Motion for Appropriate Relief hearing, where a judge would decide if there is sufficient evidence to grant Finch a new trial of vacate his sentence.  However, during the testimony of a former Federal Bureau of Investigations agent, the judge, Milton Fitch, had to recuse himself.

“It's regrettable to us that there is a further delay, because Ray has been in jail for 37 years and it will be 38 years this February. On our part, we believe that it's 37 years too late," said Lau.

So, Finch went back to prison and everyone involved in the case is waiting for a new hearing to be scheduled.

“It’s been hard, because I miss him. I was thinking he was going to get out the other week, but it didn’t happen,” said Finch’s son, Michael Taylor.

“In 1976, 1977 there were a lot of things that weren't into play then that are into play now, and as a result of the way we did it, he may be given a trial. I have no regrets whatsoever, and I don't have any doubts that he's not the right man," said Owens.
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