PUBLISHED:December 21, 2021

Howard Dudley is granted a pardon of innocence, the fourth pardon in a year for a Wrongful Convictions Clinic client


Dudley spent nearly 24 years in prison based on a claim that was recanted soon after his conviction. He refused a parole deal that would have required him to admit to a crime he didn't commit.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper granted a pardon of innocence Tuesday to Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic client Howard Dudley, who spent nearly 24 years in prison rather than take a parole deal and admit to a crime he didn't commit.

Dudley, who was exonerated in March 2016, received the news of his pardon in a phone call from Charles S. Rhyne Clinical Professor Emerita Theresa Newman ’88, who said it was “a wonderful call to be part of,” and Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney Jamie T. Lau ’09, who called the pardon “a great way to start the holiday.”

Dudley, of Kinston, was convicted in 1992 of sexually assaulting his then 9-year-old daughter, who soon afterward recanted her claim of abuse. Dudley always maintained his innocence and rejected a plea deal and several parole options because they required an admission of guilt.

He was sentenced to life in prison but ordered released in March 2016 by a superior court judge who called Dudley’s conviction “an injustice,” citing legal flaws in his trial that included an inexperienced defense attorney who never filed a motion or consulted an expert witness, according to The News & Observer, which published a four-part series on the case in 2005 that led to its referral to the Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

“I am not a child molester,” Dudley told reporters after the hearing. “I have never been one and I will never be one.”

The pardon of innocence entitles Dudley to apply for compensation from the state which, if approved, will provide him $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, up to a maximum of $750,000. Earlier this year Dudley settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Kinston and a police officer for $1,850,000.

Dudley’s pardon of innocence is the fourth gubernatorial pardon to be granted in the past year to a client of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic:

  • Ronnie Long, for whom Lau was lead counsel, was exonerated in August 2020 after spending 44 years in prison and received a pardon of innocence in December 2020.
  • Dontae Sharpe, for whom Newman served as lead counsel, was exonerated in August 2019 after spending 24 years in prison and received a pardon of innocence on Nov. 13.
  • Charles Ray Finch was exonerated in May 2019 after spending more than 40 years in prison and received a pardon of innocence on June 16. John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law James E. Coleman, Jr. took up Finch's case before the clinic was established in 2007 and waged a 15 year legal battle on his behalf.

Until her retirement in June, Newman was co-director, with Coleman, of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. Lau is supervising attorney for the clinic and for the Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, which Coleman also directs. In January the clinic marked its tenth exoneration when client Willie Shaw was released after spending six years in prison.  

Duke Law alumni who worked on Dudley’s case include Grady Campion ’16, Evan Glasner ’16, Larissa Boz ’14, Courtland Tisdale ’14, and Kim Chemerinsky ’07, who worked on the case as a clinic fellow.

Read more on Dudley’s exoneration here. Watch a WRAL interview with Dudley after his release here.