Here is a copy of the petition recently filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court, in an attempt by the South Carolina Actual Innocence Project to reverse the murder conviction of James McClurkin. This will actually be the FIRST TIME an appellate court has ever examined the facts, or even been presented with the facts, surrounding James’ conviction.
If the petition is granted, and James’ conviction is reversed, it will re-set the statute of limitations on many of his civil claims. If not, the civil claims will face substantial hurdles. Let’s hope that for once, the criminal justice system in South Carolina does right by Mr. McClurkin.
People assume that people convicted of murder get a large amount of appeals, and have judges looking over their case to make sure everything was constitutional and fair . . . . Nope. This folder contains no actual direct appeal of James McClurkin’s murder conviction.
His lawyer who represented him during the 1977 trial which convicted him dropped the ball completely. He filed the notice of intent to appeal, but never actually followed through. Apparently he was waiting on payment from Mr. McClurkin’s family prior to filing the appeal. However, James’ father, who had hired him initially, passed away two weeks prior to the trial, and had spent all he had on James’ trial. The result was that Mr. McClurkin did not receive a direct appeal for his murder conviction. The State of South Carolina filed a motion to dismiss the notice of intent to appeal based on the failure to take any action beyond filing the notice. So the “appeal” was dismissed forever. What followed is paperwork which mostly discusses legal technicalities such as failure to comply with deadlines, and the discussion of rules which forbid inmates from bringing up old issues. It doesn’t appear that Mr. McClurkin ever had the assistance of a lawyer at all up until 1992, when the real murderer confessed. Every document James filed throughout his incarceration always mentioned first that James had exhausted his appeals. Well, he never got an appeal, and it is a fiction – a lie – that he exhausted his appeals.
The notoriously racist trial judge, Judge Moss, who in 1985 created “controversy” by using the “N word” from the bench (in response to black protestors following the conviction of a black man accused of shooting a white man – ironically similar to James’ conviction). Here is an article I tracked down from January 28, 1985, as it appeared in the South Carolina Herald-Journal.
This file contains almost no discussion of the evidence upon which James’ murder conviction stands. At one point, a lawyer for the South Carolina Appellate Public Defender’s Office filed a motion to withdraw from representing James due to the case being “without merit.” He didn’t bother to mention the evidence from the 1970’s, or the lack thereof. He didn’t even look into the 1992 confession and testimony of the real murderer. This was 2004. James would spend another 12 years in prison.
We are pleased to have been hired to represent a man named James McClurkin. James was convicted of murder in 1977. In late 2016, law enforcement appeared at his parole hearing and testified that the old murder case was reopened, and that James was innocent. James was released. He was 63 years old, and had been in South Carolina prisons since the age of 18.
South Carolina is one of the states which does not provide compensation to innocent people who are wrongfully imprisoned and then later exonerated. Hopefully that legislation can soon be enacted in South Carolina. But until that happens, we are working hard to compensate Mr. McClurkin for the terrible injustice which occurred in his case.
Here are some of the media accounts of his release from prison:
James McClurkin and his co-defendant were convicted of the 1973 murder of laundromat attendant Claude Killian. James, and his co-defendant Ray Charles Degraffenreid, both African Americans, were convicted under the brutal 1970’s Chester County, South Carolina justice system, which involved, among other things, a presiding trial judge who was known for using the “N word” while on the bench.
The real murderer actually confessed in 1992, which was corroborated by the fact that he was convicted of a similar murder, and by the fact that he had no alibi on the night of the murder. However, the justice system once again failed James, and he was sent back to prison for another 25 years. Now law enforcement reopened the case, and have concluded that the real murderer was telling the truth. How did this occur? Well, among other issues, the mother of the real murderer was apparently the maid of the prosecutor who prosecuted James and Ray Degraffenreid.
This sounds like a novel, but it’s not. It’s real, and it was only uncovered because a courageous new sheriff was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and double check an old case. Follow along as we jump into this case and work to reverse the wheels of justice.
IF YOU LIVE IN SOUTH CAROLINA, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR POLITICIANS AND EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT IN PLACING THESE CASES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA. BOTH JAMES MCCLURKIN AND RAY CHARLES DEGRAFFENREID SHOULD BE PARDONED BY THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA.
You can donate in order to assist with James McClurkin’s living expenses through the following site: