(CN) – A North Carolina sheriff now serving 15-year federal sentence for extortion and corruption, threatened a 16-year-old with life behind bars if he did not give the false testimony that sent an innocent man to prison for murder, a federal lawsuit claims.
Bobby Lee Medford was convicted in May 2008 of charges that he pocketed at least $300,000 in bribes while controlling a multimillion-dollar gambling empire in the state.
Medford, who had been sheriff of Buncombe County, N.C., maintained his innocence throughout the 11-day trial, but jurors took less than two hours to find him guilty. The 4th Circuit upheld his conviction in 2011.
Now, Kenneth Kagonyera claims in a federal lawsuit that Medford was responsible for his going to jail for a 2000 murder he did not commit.
Kagonyera says as a result of false statements coerced by Medford and officers Samuel Matthew Constance, George Sprinkle, Michael Murphy, and John Elkins, he was charged and imprisoned for the murder of Walter Bowman in Fairview, NC, which occurred when three African-American men burst into his home, wearing bandanas and shot him through the bedroom door. They left without taking anything.
Eleven years later, on September 22, 2011, Kagonyera was unanimously determined to be innocent of that murder by three North Carolina Superior Court judges, following an investigation by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission and a seven-day evidentiary hearing.
The evidence uncovered by the Commission established beyond question that three other men – Robert Rutherford, Lacy “JJ” Pickens, and Brad Summey – murdered Bowman and that Kagonyera had nothing to do with it.
Kagonyera is now suing Medford and the officers in the federal court in Asheville for deliberately fabricating evidence that was used to arrest, prosecute, convict, and imprison him.
“This miscarriage of justice was not just the result of negligent police work, or the absence of appropriate policies and procedures, although these factors may have played a contributing role,” the complaint alleges.
“It was primarily the result of false statements that were coerced from suspects by various law enforcement officers with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the use by these law enforcement officers of lies and suggestive identification procedures to knowingly produce a fabricated identification, and the concealment and destruction of exculpatory evidence by these officers. Moreover, these improper and unconstitutional law enforcement practices were encouraged and condoned by the former Sheriff of Buncombe County, Bobby Medford,” it says.
Kagonyera maintains Medford coerced a false confession from a sixteen-year-old with a “history of psychological problems,” telling him that he would serve life in prison without parole if he did not “make a statement consistent with what Medford wanted him to say.”
The young man made that statement because he was “terrified” of Medford, Kagonyera says.
The lawsuit alleges that Medford supplied the young man with the details of the crime, including facts unknown to the public, which he later repeated back to other investigators.
The suit also accuses Samuel Matthew Constance, investigator with the Sheriff’s Office, with coercing a false confession from a drug-addict who was under the influence of narcotics when Constance interviewed him – “a fact that Constance did not disclose in his report of that interview. This addict provided multiple different and inconsistent stories to Constance, none of which was true,” the complaint says.
After the two “witnesses” recanted their false statements, investigators George Sprinkle and Matthew Murphy, “through the use of lies and grossly improper investigative tactics,” allegedly induced Shaun Bowman, the victim’s son and an eyewitness to the shooting, to identify Kagonyera as one of the men who murdered his father.
Investigators allegedly ignored the fact that Kagonyera and the other individuals named in the induced statements were all excluded in the investigation as the source of the DNA evidence found on the bandanas worn by the men who shot Bowman. They also purportedly destroyed exculpatory portions of a videotape that showed the actual perpetrators in a nearby convenience store shortly before the murder.
Kagonyera further contends that after he was imprisoned, investigators allegedly ignored a confession by Robert Rutherford that exonerated Kagonyera and DNA on a bandana was linked to a man named Bradford Summey.
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