When LaMonte Armstrong heard that a Greensboro, N.C., prosecutor had dismissed the murder charge against him on March 18, he felt equal parts relief and elation.
“It’s been real up and down, and I am a little bit overwhelmed,” said Armstrong, a client of Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic who served 17 years of a life sentence before he was released last June after a team of Duke Law students and alumni worked with prosecutors and police to reexamine his case. “They gave me life, then they let me go. And as happy as I am to be free, I’ve been walking around for nine months with that charge hanging over my head, and I was starting to wonder if it would always be hanging over me.”
Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann dismissed the charge after DNA testing of crime scene evidence already underway was concluded.
“The DNA tests excluded LaMonte and confirmed the State’s decision to vacate the conviction in June,” Newman said.
Neumann, the assistant district attorney, had joined with Armstrong’s lawyers in recommending his release pending a new trial.
Natasha Alladina ’11, an associate at Alston & Bird in Atlanta, who has worked on Armstrong’s case since her student days, said the dismissal of the charge against Armstrong is more than a formality.
“He felt like he would never have peace of mind knowing that he was innocent yet having the murder charge hanging over his head,” Alladina said. “I'm sure this will give him the relief he has wanted for so long and deserves so much.”
Alladina is just one of several Duke Law students, many now alumni, who worked with Newman, Winston-Salem lawyer David Pishko ‘77, and Professor James Coleman Jr. on Armstrong’s case. Many have stayed in touch with him over the years, some working pro bono after graduating, and were present at his June release. Their “dogged work,” and the “open minds” of Neumann and Greensboro Police Detective Michael Matthews, resulted in a just outcome, Coleman said at the time of Armstrong’s release.
“The willingness of the Greensboro Police Department and the District Attorney’s office to listen to our concerns and act as amenable, if skeptical, allies in pursuing the truth is a blueprint for how innocence investigations should proceed,” said Coleman. “In this case the system worked with us and together justice was achieved for Mr. Armstrong.”
No physical evidence ever linked Armstrong to the crime.
“I’m so grateful for the ‘A-Team’,” said Armstrong, referring to the Duke Law team that has been working on his case. Since shortly after his release, he has been working as a counselor at the Freedom House in Chapel Hill, a recovery center for people suffering from addiction. Armstrong was rushing from a midnight shift at Freedom House to a morning class for counseling certification when Newman called him about the dismissal. The news erased the fatigue, he said, and the relief would carry him through the day.
“I want to thank my Duke lawyers 2,000 times plus one,” he said.
Armstrong is now included in the National Registry of Exonerations.
Read more on LaMonte Armstrong’s case.