Convicted of first-degree murder in 1995, LaMonte Armstrong walked out of a North Carolina prison with a hopeful future June 29.
The now-62-year-old Greensboro man had claimed his innocence all along. And with a growing pile of evidence supporting that claim, a judge agreed with defense attorneys and an assistant district attorney that the charges should be dismissed and Armstrong should be freed.
Superior Court Judge Joe Turner, during the hearing, said his decision in Armstrong’s case was likely the “closest to knowing I’m doing justice, in my career, I will ever experience,” according to the HuffingtonPost.com.
“He made me almost drop my head to my feet,” Armstrong said in response to the judge’s words.
Armstrong was convicted of killing his mother’s best friend, well-known college professor Ernestine Compton, by stabbing her and strangling her with an electrical cord. But according to defense attorney’s associated with the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic, Armstrong was railroaded in a classic case of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
There was never any physical evidence linking Armstrong to the crime, but the jury convicted him on the basis of police informant Charles Blackwell, who said he witnessed the act and was an accessory to the crime.
Though Blackwell later recanted, in court he said he saw Armstrong murder Compton. Three prison inmates, who received favorable treatment in exchange for their support, corroborated his testimony.
Prosecutors failed, however, to inform defense attorneys of the testimony provided by several witnesses who say they saw the victim alive days after Armstrong allegedly committed the crime. They also withheld the testimony of another witness, a neighbor of the slain professor, who told police she saw a strange man, not Armstrong, in the area after the killing, wearing bloody Army fatigues.
“It was a gross miscarriage of justice,” said Theresa Newman, a Duke Law School professor and the clinic’s executive director. “Nobody should be convicted this way.”
With the urging of Newman and other attorneys, police retested the evidence and made a game-changing discovery—a match to a palm print found at the murder scene. Authorities have since identified Christopher Caviness, a now-deceased felon who was a suspect early in the case, as the real killer.
“We are truly saddened that an apparently innocent man has been convicted,” said Greensboro police Capt. Mike Richey, head of the department’s Criminal Investigations Division, in a News-Record article.
Armstrong and his attorneys thanked Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann and Greensboro Det. Michael Matthews for their open-minded approach to the case.
“The willingness of the Greensboro Police Department and the District Attorney’s office to listen to our concerns and act as amenable, if skeptical, allies in pursuing the truth is a blueprint for how innocence investigations should proceed,” said Duke professor James Coleman, who also worked on the case, in an article on the university’s website.
“In this case the system worked with us and together justice will be achieved for Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Compton.”