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Wrongful Conviction that led to innocent man spending 42 years in prison results in settlement 

In 1976, Charles Ray Finch was convicted and charged with the death sentence for the murder of Shadow Holloman. Over 45 years later he has been vacated. 

According to the counsel for the estate of Finch, David Rudolf, Sonya Pfeiffer, and Phillip Lewis all from Pfeiffer Rudolf Law Firm, this was due to widespread corruption in the Wilson County, North Carolina police department that was eventually investigated by the FBI. The Sheriff and several of his deputies were eventually convicted with a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) indictment.


“He was running his sheriff’s office as a criminal enterprise and what that involved at the time was helping to run drugs, guns, and cigarettes up and down I-95 in North Carolina,” Rudolf said. “There were a whole host of illegal activities that were centered at and conducted by the sheriff’s office. In the middle of that, there’s a murder, and we believe the prime suspect of that murder was somebody who worked at one of the motels that the sheriff allowed to be used as a brothel. He saw the sheriff’s deputies and the sheriff himself coming there to get pay outs. When he committed this murder, it’s our theory that the sheriff’s office had a large incentive to not arrest him because he was in possession of information that he could have provided to law enforcement.”


What the plaintiff’s counsel alleged was that the sheriff’s office set up Finch to take the fall for this murder. The sheriff’s office even arranged an unconstitutional in-person lineup where Finch was dressed up to match the description of the perpetrator by a witness, according to Rudolf.  

Based on that identification, Finch was convicted of first-degree murder five months after his arrest. He received the death penalty, but his death sentence was vacated in 1977. 

While steadfastly fighting to prove his innocence, Finch filed several Post-Conviction Motions, his case was eventually taken over by the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic in 2001. Duke reached out to the SBI – who had conducted a follow up investigation in 1979 – for more information. According to Rudolf, Finch’s counsel alleged that the SBI withheld critical exculpatory evidence and as a result of that, Finch spent an additional 18 years in prison.  

Finch served forty-two years in prison before his sentence was finally vacated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. He received a pardon of innocence from Governor Roy Cooper in 2021. 

About a year and a half after Finch was exonerated, he passed away due to cancer. He is survived by his four children. 

Finch’s Estate received a global settlement of $9.5 Million from the SBI and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department. “What [his children] lost over the course of their lives in terms of interactions with their dad and his interactions with them, is just incalculable,” Rudolf said. “There’s no amount of money that could make up for that.” 

Defense attorneys either declined to comment or failed to respond to comment requests.


 Is this a verdict or a settlement? Settlement
Type of case: Wrongful conviction, malicious prosecution, denial of fair trial, Monell, deprivation of due process and access to courts
Amount: $9.5 million
Injuries alleged: Wrongful conviction and incarceration (forty-three years)
Case name: Charles Ray Finch v. Sheriff Calvin L. Woodard Jr; Tony McCoy Owens; James Tant; Special Agent Alan H. McMahan; and John H. Watters
Court: US District Court for the Eastern District of NC
Case No.: 5:19-CV-00550-BO
Judge: Terrence Boyle
Date of settlement: July 12, 2022
Attorney(s) for plaintiff and their firm(s): David S. Rudolf, Sonya Pfeiffer, and Phillip Lewis all from Rudolf Widenhouse Law Firm
Attorney(s) for defendant and their firm(s): Alex Williams (North Carolina Department of Justice) Bryan Nichols (North Carolina Department of Justice) Josh S. Wood (Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial)
Were liability and/or damages contested? Yes
Has the judgment been successfully collected? The settlement has been paid in full.

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