The Wilmington 10 were convicted in October 1972 on charges of conspiracy to firebomb Mike’s Grocery and conspiracy to assault emergency personnel who responded to the fire.
The trial was held in Burgaw in Pender County after a judge declared a mistrial the first time. A jury of 10 blacks and two whites had been seated in the first trial when prosecutor Jay Stroud said he was sick, and the judge declared the mistrial. At the second trial, a jury of 10 whites and two blacks was seated.
The three key witnesses who took the stand for the prosecution recanted their testimony in 1976. And the prosecutor, Stroud, became a flashpoint for the Wilmington 10 supporters.
In November, NAACP state leaders said they believe newly uncovered notes show Stroud tried to keep blacks off the first jury and seat whites he thought were sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan.
They showed the notes on a poster board, saying the handwriting on the legal paper appeared to match notes from other prosecution records in the case.
At the top of the list of 100 jurors, the notes said, “stay away from black men.” A capital “B” was beside the names of black jurors. The notes identify one potential black juror as an “Uncle Tom type,” and beside the names of several white people, notations include “KKK?” and “good!!”
“This conduct is disgraceful,” Perdue said. “It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt — not based on race or other forms of prejudice.”
Stroud told the StarNews of Wilmington that he wrote some of the notes but declined to confirm that to the AP in November. On Monday, he told the AP that he wouldn’t have written “stay away from black men,” and said someone could have forged the notes.
The N.C. State Bar lists Stroud as a former defense attorney whose status is inactive at his request. Stroud has been arrested more than a dozen times in the past six years, and his son told The Gaston Gazette in 2011 that his father suffers with bipolar disease and that he was diagnosed about the same time he graduated from law school.
“I think she has made a mistake,” Stroud said of Perdue on Monday. “The case was prosecuted fairly, and the jury reached a unanimous verdict fairly quickly after a six-week trial. And they found all 10 defendants unanimously guilty of all charges. And I think her decision is flying in the face of the jury’s verdict.”