For the second time in a week, a former death row prisoner has been exonerated in the United States. On Tuesday, prosecutors dropped all charges against Jonathon Hoffman, who spent seven years on North Carolina’s death row before winning a new trial in 2004.
Last week, Michael McCormick was exonerated after spending 16 years on Tennessee’s death row.
Hoffman’s release brings the number of death row exonerations to 126 since 1973.
CHARGES DISMISSED IN CASE OF WRONGFULLY CONVICTED DEATH ROW INMATE JONATHON HOFFMAN
MONROE, NC – Union County District Attorney John Snyder today dismissed capital murder charges against former death row inmate Jonathon Hoffman, another innocent person sentenced to death in North Carolina for a crime he did not commit.
“We are grateful Mr. Snyder had the integrity and courage to do the right thing, and to release Jonathon after years on death row for a crime he did not commit. It was the actions of the prior District Attorney that put Jonathon on death row in the first place,” said David Rudolf, one of Hoffman’s attorneys. “And, as a result of what the State Bar described as egregious misconduct by the prosecutors, the real killer was never caught. That’s the lesson the public, and prosecutors, must recognize. Cheating to win a case doesn’t protect the public. It hurts everyone.”
Hoffman was sentenced to death in Union County for the 1995 shooting of jewelry store owner Danny Cook. No physical evidence linked Hoffman to the crime. Importantly, the State did not tell Hoffman’s jury that their star witness against him, Johnell Porter, was promised and later given significant rewards for his testimony. He received thousands of dollars, was never prosecuted for crimes he admitted to on the witness stand, and was given a reduced federal sentence for a bank robbery.
In addition, the District Attorney’s notes were altered to omit a reference to setting up a deal for Porter; one copy contains the sentence “Meet with US Att. and get some concessions made to Porter in the event he testifiesn for us.” But a copy of the same notes, given to a judge and filed under seal, did not include that sentence.
Hoffman, a black man charged with killing a white man, was tried by an all-white jury. He has been waiting for his new day in court since he was awarded a new trial in 2004 based on the State’s misconduct.
Hoffman’s prosecutors in his original trial were Ken Honeycutt and Scott Brewer, who were later criminally and civilly investigated for not revealing the deals promised to Porter. When Honeycutt was the District Attorney in Union County, he often wore in court a gold lapel pin shaped like hangman’s noose and awarded them to assistant district attorneys who won death penalty cases.
“The release of Jonathan Hoffman continues the exposure of a pattern of wrongful prosecutions and convictions in North Carolina,” said Joseph B. Cheshire, V, Hoffman’s other attorney. “While these miscarriages of justice continue to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system and make our citizens wonder how many other people are wrongfully imprisoned in our state, we can take some solace in recent efforts by our legislature to recognize that problem and address it by establishing Indigent Defense Services and passing the open file discovery law. These advances in the fairness of our system should be preserved and increased with additional reforms if we are to stop the pattern of injustice that has been exposed in North Carolina.”