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the news and observer, june 12, 2002, by jane ruffin and adrienne lu

Retrial Ruled Out for Garner

The Johnston County district attorney dismissed charges Tuesday against Terence Garner, who drew national attention for his quest to be cleared in the armed robbery of a finance company and shooting of a secretary.

District Attorney Tom Lock, who prosecuted Garner in 1998, said he was "no longer convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of Garner's guilt."

Garner, 21, served nearly four years in prison in the 1997 holdup of Quality Finance in eastern Johnston County before a judge set aside the conviction in February. That action gave Lock the option of putting Garner on trial again. Garner, who lives in Wayne County, said he was stunned to hear the news from his lawyers.

"I just couldn't believe it. I was just sitting here and I couldn't believe it," he said. "I ain't angry or nothing at no one.

"I believed it would happen one day," said Garner, who planned no celebration. A student at Wayne Community College, he said he was busy getting ready for school today.

Garner's mother, Linda Chambers, said she never doubted that her son's case would end happily, even though he once faced up to 43 years in prison. "I knew this was going to happen," she said. "I knew my son was innocent from the beginning."

Lock said he reached his decision over the weekend after reviewing a report by two State Bureau of Investigation agents who interviewed all the original witnesses, as well as others. The state would have faced "insurmountable obstacles," including the emergence of three alibi witnesses for Garner, in trying to get another conviction, he said.

Lock said he found it "very persuasive" that Garner passed a lie-detector test Thursday in Fayetteville. The district attorney had asked Garner to take the polygraph, which was administered by the SBI.

"My decision was not based entirely on the polygraph," Lock said. "If all the evidence had pointed to his guilt and he had passed the polygraph, I certainly would have still prosecuted him. Had he failed the polygraph, I don't know what I would have done."

Lock said his decision did not equal an "exoneration" of Garner, and he defended his own actions in prosecuting Garner in the first place. "My job is a prosecutor, and I think at all times I have performed that function diligently and in a straightforward manner," said Lock, who is running for re-election this year.

"If Terence Garner is in fact not guilty, then certainly it's tragic that he spent four years in prison. But on the other hand, ultimately, the system has worked for him."

Alice Wise, the secretary wounded in the holdup, could not be reached Tuesday. She was hit in the chest and head by gunfire and lost an eye. Lock, who met with Wise on Tuesday, said she remained convinced that Garner was the person who shot her.

"She has gone through a terrible ordeal and will continue to do so," Lock said. "She suffered physical and psychological trauma far beyond that ordinarily suffered by the victim of such a crime."

He declined to say whether someone else would now be charged with the crimes. The SBI is continuing to investigate.

Another man, Terrance Deloach of Goldsboro, a cousin of one of Garner's codefendants, confessed to the robbery shortly after Garner's conviction, but then retracted the confession. Deloach later was convicted of an armed mugging on a subway and imprisoned in New York.

Lock said that since Garner's trial, Deloach has confessed to at least two people that he robbed Quality Finance and shot Wise.

Deloach's cousin, Keith Riddick of Goldsboro, admitted his involvement in the robbery and testified against Garner. Riddick later said he had done so to protect a plea bargain deal with the prosecution.

Another co-defendant, Kendrick Henderson of Seven Springs, maintained from the beginning that Garner was innocent. After Garner's trial, Henderson's insistence that Garner was wrongly convicted drew the attention of sheriff's detectives in Wayne County, who tracked down Deloach and obtained his confession.

The News & Observer's reporting on the case piqued the curiosity of a producer for the PBS documentary series "Frontline." Her program, "An Ordinary Crime," aired in January, prompting an outpouring of phone calls and e-mail messages from viewers.

A month later, in February, a judge granted Garner's request for a new trial, with Lock's consent. Garner was released from prison and returned home to Wayne County.

Garner's attorney, Mark Montgomery of Durham, credited the documentary for Garner's release. "It's humbling to realize I spent four years trying to get this kid, who I believe to be innocent, out of prison using all my lawyer skills, and a 90-minute television documentary springs him like magic," Montgomery said.

He disagreed with Lock's contention that the system worked for Garner. "Terence Garner is free in spite of the system, not because of it," Montgomery said.

"The system would have kept Terence Garner in prison for 30 more years. Public attention derailed the system in this case. It got people to stop and pay attention to what was going on. Otherwise, it was going to be business as usual. Everybody just gave a big yawn: 'So what else is new? Another black kid in prison. Who cares?'"

Ofra Bikel, the producer of the PBS documentary, said she was thrilled by Tuesday's events. She had hoped the charges would be dismissed, she said, but was never confident. "It's nice to see that [I was] right," she said. "I'm just really very, very glad."

The News & Observer

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