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Conviction under review

RALEIGH – Since July 2010, Coatney Randall Williams has been locked up for a crime he contends he did not commit.

It now appears that Williams, age 35, will have another chance to prove his innocence on an attempted murder conviction in Northampton County, one that sent him to prison for 50 years.

Late last month, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC) unanimously concluded there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence in the Williams case to merit judicial review.

According to NCIIC Executive Director Lindsey Guice Smith, case was referred forward for a hearing before a three-judge panel. North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley will appoint a panel of three superior court judges to hear the case in Northampton County.

The case arises from crimes committed on Dec. 29, 2007. On July 15, 2010, Williams was convicted, after a jury trial in Jackson, of attempted murder; robbery with a dangerous weapon; first degree burglary; larceny of firearms, which was consolidated with assault with a deadly weapon intent to kill; and larceny after breaking and entering, which was consolidated with possession of stolen goods.

On appeal, the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated Williams’s judgments for felony larceny after breaking and entering, larceny of a firearm, and felony possession of stolen goods and remanded the case for resentencing on the assault with deadly a weapon with intent to kill. Williams was then sentenced to a range of approximately 42 to 52 years for the crime.

Court records show that the case against Williams stems from a Dec. 29, 2007 incident where four individuals entered the home of Mary Elizabeth Davis and demanded to know where she kept her valuables.

Others involved in the crime were Antonio Freeman, Jamal Thomas, and Karon Moses. At the July 2010 trial, Freeman – who had already pled guilty to charges associated with the robbery, testified as to Williams’s involvement in the crime.

At some point during the crime, the victim’s son arrived home with a friend. As the son was entering the home, he was chased out by Williams and Moses. Meanwhile, a person sitting in the son’s car exited the vehicle and attempted to flee. He was shot, with a shotgun, by one of the robbers.

After the robbers left the victim’s home, a neighbor briefly chased them in her vehicle, but stopped when she was fired upon by one of the assailants.

Items stolen from the home of Davis included a handgun, pocketbook, credit card, jewelry and cash, along with items of the son’s clothing, to include a pair of Timberland boots. Those boots were later recovered at Williams’s residence.

In his defense, Williams said he was in Philadelphia at the time the crime was committed. As far as the victim’s son’s boots found at his residence, Williams said they were given to him by Thomas.

The jury convicted Williams on all counts.

On an appeal, Williams’s legal counsel entered a motion to dismiss based on the trial court’s error to dismiss the charge of attempted murder. The defendant contends there was insufficient evidence of premeditation, deliberation, and specific intent to kill.

While the appeals court noted that the identity of the gunman (either Williams or Moses during the chase of the son’s friend) was not conclusively established at the jury trial, they disagreed with the motion to dismiss. They cited case law…..“if two persons join in a purpose to commit a crime, each of them, if actually or constructively present, is not only guilty as a principal if the other commits that particular crime, but he is also guilty of any other crime committed by the other in pursuance of the common purpose.”

At the appeal hearing, the defendant’s lawyer argued, and the State conceded, that the defendant was improperly sentenced for robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony larceny, larceny of a firearm, and felony possession of stolen goods, when all of the offenses involved property which was taken during a single continuous transaction. The Appeals Court vacated those convictions.

The NCIIC is a state agency charged with investigating post-conviction claims of factual innocence. The agency was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and began operations in 2007.

Since 2007, over 2,800 claims have been submitted and reviewed by the Commission. The Commission has held 17 hearings. Twelve individuals have been exonerated as a result of the Commission’s investigations. In addition, there are currently nine individuals whose cases are awaiting final adjudication by a post-Commission three-judge panel.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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