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‘They Can’t Give Me the Time That They Took’: North Carolina Pastor’s Conviction Overturned Nearly Three Decades After Wrongful Robbery Arrest

A North Carolina pastor who spent eight years behind bars for a crime he did not commit has been cleared 28 years later.

Darron Carmon said he was confident he would be acquitted when he was on trial for the 1993 robbery of a convenience store in a small North Carolina town, Winterville, at 19 years old. The store clerk identified Carmon as the Black man who robbed him at gunpoint for $281.

The police did not find the weapon or the money, and Carmon, a pastor’s son, reportedly had a clean record. Still, he was convicted in 1994 of robbery with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Carmon reportedly became an assistant chaplain and was released for good behavior in 2001. A Pitt County Superior Court judge vacated the conviction on Aug. 10, reports show.

Forensic evidence that was never disclosed to his attorney in the 1990s excluded him from the crime.

“Most of all, I’m thankful,” he said. “It’s the one thing I asked God to do for me. Do I feel justice? I actually don’t. … They can’t give me the time that they took.”

Carmon pastors a church in Winterville and another in Lewiston, North Carolina. He also runs a mentoring program and a nonprofit that teaches young Black men how to interact with the police, People Against Racism. Back in 1993, Cameron said police often followed and surveilled Black men, profiling them as criminals. It did not matter that he came from a family of church leaders and was enrolled in community college, he said.

“To be honest, to be a Black male at that time, that really, really played a big part,” he said. “All you have to say is, ‘They have Timberlands and a hoodie on.'”

Fresh Way Foods clerk Robert Thompson picked Carmon out of a lineup.
Carmon’s defense attorney admitted that he was not prepared for the trial and his motion to postpone was dismissed. The attorney reportedly only presented one of Carmon’s three alibi witnesses. He was convicted on Thompson’s word.

The clerk claimed to be a security consultant for the convenience store and testified as an expert witness.

“They couldn’t ask for any better witness than Mr. Thompson. He’s practically an expert in identifying people,” Thompson reportedly was described during the closing arguments of the trial.

Soon after he was sentenced and sent to prison, Camron collected an assortment of pills from others and took them in one dose in an attempt to kill himself.

“I just felt this peace over my body, and I knew it was God,” he said. “God became my fortune. I served him for real. That’s the only way I made it.”

In 2020, Carmon’s legal team and a group of post-conviction attorneys found the finger and palm prints collected in 1993 in a criminal file from the Winterville Police Department. They interviewed the former Fresh Way Foods CEO, who couldn’t recall ever hiring a security consultant, or providing training in robbery prevention or suspect identification, which Thompson claimed he had.

The former CEO also reportedly said Fresh Way Foods cashiers could not keep more than $100 in the drawer. The overflow of money was supposed to go in a drop box, and it was not uncommon for them to fake robberies and pocket the money. The clerk was not alive to answer any questions.

“I don’t believe you can forgive people for things they didn’t ask forgiveness for,” Cameron said. “I do believe you can’t have hate in your heart.”

Pitt County District Attorney Faris Dixon said the state violated Carmon’s constitutional rights by failing to hand over the evidence that could have exonerated him. The prosecutor in the 1994 trial told Cameron’s post-conviction team that if he had the prints, he would have given them to the defense.

Dixon also said the process police used to identify Carmon was “suggestive and scientifically unreliable.”

Cameron acknowledges Black men are still viewed the same way nearly three decades later. He teaches the young man in his program not to be too hostile or nervous with police officers even though systemic racism exists.

“I want to curb things that might happen to them,” he told the News and Observer. “I still wear hoodies now.”

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