RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – For Howard Dudley, the next best thing after he walked out of prison as a free man in 2016 was having his name officially cleared.
On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper granted him a pardon of innocence.
“Awesome, awesome,” Dudley said the following Wednesday.
He recalled driving on Tuesday when he heard the news, overcome with emotion, stopping to pull over.
“I was almost in tears,” Dudley said. “It was an exciting day, very exciting.”
Dudley was convicted in 1992 and was serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting his 9-year-old daughter, who later recanted her testimony and said several times in the past that she lied about the alleged assault.
Prosecutors in 1992 never presented any physical evidence of an assault, but still, Dudley was sent behind bars.
Throughout the more than two decades Dudley spent locked up, he continued to keep his faith.
“You know, you have to find your own space,” Dudley said. “I found mine through reading. I’m a big-time V.C. Andrews reader, I read all of her books.”
Dudley’s request to have his name cleared took five years after he was released from prison in 2016.
“You submit the request for the pardon of innocence and you wait,” Duke Law lawyer Jamie Lau said. “And you don’t really get updates, you don’t know what’s going on, you just hope that one day you’ll receive the phone call that we received yesterday morning indicating that the pardon of innocence has been granted.”
Now Dudley’s name joins the others who were pardoned in North Carolina, including Dontae Sharpe. But Dudley and Lau say more still needs to be done.
“Some of the guys in there are fighting just like I fought,” Dudley said.
Lau added that there there are cases they continue to litigate where they firmly believe the person who’s incarcerated is innocent, such as Charles Ray Finch, who was pardoned in 2021.
“We shouldn’t be incarcerating people through unfair processes,” Lau said. “When it’s without a doubt that the person’s conviction was wrong, the attorney general’s office should be moving mountains to secure the person’s freedom instead of spending an exorbitant amount of time trying to fight us on a procedural ground.”
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