New York, NY (PressExposure) September 26, 2011 -- An aggressive campaign was launched today to free wrongfully convicted Frank Wetzel from North Carolina's Piedmont Correctional facility by his 90th birthday on October 12.
Frank Wetzel was convicted in early 1958 in two separate trials of the murders of two North Carolina State Troopers shot to death within 15 minutes at a distance of 47 miles apart. He was spared the death penalty because neither jury was convinced of his guilt which should have resulted in a not guilty verdict. No forensic evidence tied him to either crime.
Randolph Terry, an African-American homeless preacher who hitched a ride with the killer in the first shooting was the only eye-witness to testify against Frank. He changed his description of both car and driver during weeks of intensive questioning by FBI and local law enforcement agents. He was allowed to testify in Frank Wetzel's second trial though he had not been present at the scene. He recanted his testimony in 1988, saying that as a Black man in those days, he had "feared for his life" if he did not go along with the police version of events since they stood over him with billy clubs.
Despite those facts and the denial of his constitutional rights to legal representation, Frank Wetzel's repeated requests for a rehearing of his trials have been denied. He has been eligible for parole since 1978. As late as the spring of this year, the Parole Board ruled he would benefit from further rehabilitation, despite the fact that he has Alzheimer's and a 58 year-old half-brother whose family will welcome Frank into their home with open arms.
The failure to secure Frank Wetzel's release stems from early legal ill-advice. He was advised to withdraw a petition to appeal until the media frenzy over his capture and trials died down. Once that legal window closed, he was caught in a life sentence from which no amount of money or influence has freed him. That includes his wife Bianca Brown, an investigative reporter who married Frank in 1987 after recognizing the injustice of his imprisonment while researching his story and falling in love with his integrity in pursuit of proving his innocence. A 2002 petition for clemency filed by Charlotte attorney Mark Edwards was turned down by Governor Mike Easley for reasons unstated.
An on-line petition to North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue is the primary avenue for securing Frank Wetzel's release by his October 12 birthday. While the Governor has a strong bond with the State Troopers who serve as her personal guardians, she is known for her compassion and is considered to be a leader willing to review the 50-year-old court transcripts to determine that Frank Wetzel was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 50-odd years.
The cause of Frank Wetzel's innocence has received numerous supporters over the years. Among those are Tom Regan, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at North Carolina State University, and the late North Carolina sports writer Bill Currie, who covered Frank Wetzel's trials and wrote a yet-to-be-published book about the sensation of his obviously flawed convictions. Their commonality was sports and the fact that Frank had never engaged in violence but only in thievery to help support his nine-member family during the Great Depression.
Today's campaign builds on groundwork already laid down by the Frank Wetzel Foundation to help troubled youth stay out of the legal morass into which Frank Wetzel fell. Accredited journalists are invited to interview Frank Wetzel through his brother Richard by contacting Lora Lynn Bridges in Charlotte, North Carolina at 980.239.1458 or Helen Fogarassy in New York at 718.892.6463.