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NC governor pardons man wrongly 17 years in prison

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday pardoned a man who wrongly spent nearly 17 years in prison for a Greensboro murder after law officers and prosecutors hid key details from defense lawyers.

McCrory's decision to issue a pardon of innocence to 63-year-old LaMonte Armstrong makes him eligible to claim compensation under a North Carolina law that allows of up to $750,000 for people wrongly convicted of felonies.

Armstrong was convicted in 1995 of the 1988 killing of Ernestine Compton, one of his former professors at North Carolina A&T State University. A key prosecution witness said police pressured him to accuse Armstrong. A re-tested palm print from the murder scene belonged to another suspect who was later convicted of killing his father and died in a 2010 traffic accident.

No fingerprints or other physical evidence at the murder scene pointed to Armstrong, a former teacher and car salesman who was arrested repeatedly after he started using heroin.

Police and prosecutors also kept other evidence from defense attorneys, including information about a neighbor who said she saw another man in Compton's neighborhood around the time of the killing wearing bloody Army fatigues, according to a court filing on Armstrong's behalf by the Duke Wrongful Conviction Clinic.

A state judge vacated Armstrong's conviction 16 months ago and ordered him released pending a new trial. Superior Court Judge Joe Turner said signing Armstrong's release order was probably the "closest to knowing I'm doing justice, in my career, I will ever experience."

Prosecutors dropped all charges in March. Armstrong now works at an outpatient substance abuse treatment center in Chapel Hill.

McCrory's office said the governor called Armstrong after he finished working an overnight shift Monday and was having breakfast with his son at a diner. Armstrong, a former college basketball player, invited McCrory to shoot hoops with him, the governor's office said. McCrory accepted.

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