Erick Daniels has been out of prison for two years, yet closure still seems out of reach. Daniels, 24, spent seven years in prison for a burglary and robbery he didn't commit, but this month the state denied his request for a pardon that could clear his name and make him eligible for compensation for the teenage years he lost behind bars.
"I'm in shock," said Daniels, who is still living in Durham. The felony charges still show up on his record, he says, hindering efforts to land a job or get financial aid to continue his education. In court records, the offenses are listed as dismissed, but prospective employers still want an explanation as to how Daniels would even have been accused of a violent armed robbery, he said.
"It's explaining someone else's mistake," Daniels said. "It's one of the most awkward things I go through, having to explain myself every time."
Daniels was released from prison in 2008, when Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson found that Daniels' attorney failed to effectively represent him, even withholding evidence that could have freed him—the confession of another man who admitted to being the robber. Hudson's hearing also revealed that after Daniels' conviction, the former prosecutor who handled the case, Freda Black, knew about the other man's confession to the robbery but failed to further investigate.
With those findings, Hudson dismissed the charges against Daniels and sent him home to be with his family. But Hudson's findings appear not to have persuaded powers with the N.C. Office of Executive Clemency, the office that grants pardons and commutes sentences in the state.
Daniels learned of the outcome just last week, and only by chance. After a restless night, Daniels visited his attorney's office to check a state website that lists the names of people with pending pardon applications. After nearly a year of being on the list, Daniels no longer saw his name.
Apparently, the state office had denied Daniels' pardon in February and sent a letter to his attorney, Durham lawyer Gladys Harris, but she hadn't received it. Harris suspects the letter was delivered to an office she had just left, and not to her new address.
When she called the state office last week, Harris said she was informed that the pardon had been denied because those granting pardons from the state "do not disturb jury verdicts," Harris said. But according to Hudson's findings, the original trial was flawed by failures of Daniels' attorney, and the exclusion of pertinent evidence. The jury verdict was largely based on the testimony of the robbery victim, who picked Daniels' face, not out of a standard police lineup, but from a yearbook photo.
"I just cannot believe that it was denied," Harris said. "I'm still not sure what the reason is." Harris said she was still awaiting the letter explaining the findings.
The Independent Weekly made several efforts both this week and last week to reach representatives of the N.C. Office of Executive Clemency directly, through the N.C. Department of Correction and through the office of Gov. Bev Perdue, but the Indy's phone calls were not returned.
Harris, the attorney, said the pardon denial can't be appealed, but she was told that if she submits new evidence to show why Daniels should receive a pardon, the office may review the case again.
Daniels said he may pursue an expungement of his record, and he still intends to pursue a civil complaint against the City of Durham for the role of its employees in his wrongful conviction. No agreement has been reached and no lawsuit has been filed. Durham City Attorney Patrick Baker said the city has been communicating with Karen Daniel, Erick Daniels' mother, for several years. The city has no further comment, Baker said in an email Tuesday.