Innocence panel rules in favor of Womble

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Man sentenced in 1976 to 80 years in prison in the killing of a store clerk alleges police beat confession out of him. (WTVD)

Willie Womble told the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission Tuesday that a Durham Police Department detective beat a confession out of him in 1976.

Womble was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the alleged murder of Granville County convenience store clerk Roy Bullock in 1975, but Womble says he didn't do it.

Womble, now 60, has spent 38 years behind bars.

While Bullock was shot to death in Butner, Womble is from Durham and was arrested by Durham officers on suspicion in another crime. Womble told commission members Tuesday that during his interrogation, he was violently pressured to sign a confession that was written by Durham police.

"They grabbed me and said well if you don't sign this, telling me if you don't this we're going do this and we're going to do that, and had me to sign something," said Womble.

Womble and another man, Joseph Perry, were both convicted in the case.

Monday, in front of the Innocence Commission, Perry testified that Womble was innocent. Perry confessed that he and another man actually committed the robbery and murder.

After hearing the testimony, the eight-member Innocence Commission ruled there are facts to suggest Womble's innocence.

The case will now move to a special three judge panel, which could dismiss the charges and set Womble free.

The state chief justice has to select the judges for that panel within 30 days, but it could take months to get underway.

Since 2007, five cases have reached the three-judge panel. Four defendants have been freed, and Womble hopes to become the fifth.

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