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Man Convicted To Life Sentence For 1979 Murder Will Have A Chance To Prove Innocence

North Carolina Courts

A man serving a life sentence for killing a North Carolina college student has earned the chance to ask a judicial panel to set him free. 

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission said Monday that it found enough evidence of James Blackmon’s innocence to send his case to the three-judge panel for review. Blackmon, 65, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1979 fatal stabbing of Helena Payton at St. Augustine’s College.

Evidence considered by the innocence commission included a fingerprint from the scene that matched someone else, according to commission associate director Beth Tanner. A panel of judges in Wake County will decide whether to overturn his conviction.  A hearing date has not been set. 

Blackmon is currently an inmate at Maury Correctional Institution in Green County. The Raleigh News and Observer reports that Blackmon was diagnosed with atypical psychosis twice. The newspaper said that in a 1989 review of his case, the Court of Appeals found conflicting evidence about Blackmon’s mental state and upheld his conviction.

Since it was established in 2006, the Innocence Inquiry Commission has reviewed more than 2,500 claims.  Its investigations have resulted in the exonerations of 10 defendants.