North Carolina governor grants pardon to man freed in 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper pardoned a man on Tuesday who spent nearly 24 years in prison after allegations that he sexually assaulted his 9-year-old daughter, then freed from a life sentence in 2016 after his daughter recanted her testimony.

The pardon in the case of Howard Dudley, now in his 60s, makes him eligible to file a claim for compensation under state laws for people wrongly convicted of felonies, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

“I have carefully reviewed Howard Denice Dudley’s case and am granting him a Pardon of Innocence,” Cooper said in a statement. “Mr. Dudley and others who have been wrongly convicted deserve to have that injustice fully and publicly acknowledged.”

Dudley maintained his innocence from the start, turning down a plea deal in 1992. The Lenoir County man was convicted in April 1992 of first-degree sexual offense and taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of natural life in prison and three years.

Dudley’s daughter testified at his trial that her father had sexually abused her, the only evidence against him. The News & Observer published a four-part series in 2005, chronicling the case after Dudley’s daughter said she made up the story.

A post-conviction petition filed in 2013 noted that prior to trial, the daughter had “retold the abuse allegations to eight different people on nine separate occasions” and the retelling revealed a “high degree of inconsistency and implausibility,” according to an account from The National Registry of Exonerations.

Records from Lenoir County Social Services showed the claims were physically impossible and were embellished over time as the daughter was interviewed and re-interviewed, the registry said.

In March 2016, Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Parsons vacated Dudley’s convictions and ordered him released from prison. Parsons, in addition to noting other problems with the man’s trial, said Amy’s recantation was “credible, and was a clear, believable statement,” according to the registry.

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