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, 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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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,"
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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