N.C. Gov. Defends Pardon Refusal
Gov. Mike Easley on Friday defended his decision this week not to pardon a freed man whom Easley successfully prosecuted for rape two decades ago, rejecting the man’s assertion that the governor didn’t want to admit he’d made a mistake.
Sylvester Smith, 54, was imprisoned in 1984 for the rape of two girls, ages 4 and 6, but a court ordered Smith released from prison in November after the victims recanted and said their grandmother had told them to blame Smith rather than their cousin.
Smith won the right to a new trial; a prosecutor dismissed the charges.
Smith said Easley had a conflict of interest when considering the pardon because he prosecuted the case as district attorney in Brunswick County.
“I don’t think he’s man enough to say he made a mistake,” Smith said.
Easley said his decision was based on reviews of the 1984 trial transcript, the November hearing transcript and a recently completed inquiry by the State Bureau of Investigation. That inquiry said the girls’ mothers, interviewed in February, did not believe their daughters’ recantations.
“There is one set of standards for a judge to order a new trial,” Easley said in a statement Friday. “There is another separate and higher set of standards for a governor to declare a person innocent, and I could not do that in the face of the independent SBI investigation, the medical evidence and the polygraph results.”
The State Bureau of Investigation report also cites a 1984 polygraph test in which Smith’s statements that he did not assault the girls “showed deception.” A sexually transmitted disease for which Smith had tested positive was also diagnosed in one of the victims, the bureau said.
Smith’s attorney pledged to seek a pardon from Easley’s successor.