CharlotteObserver: Former death-row inmate sues city

“A man who spent nearly 14 years on death row is suing the city of Hickory and two former detectives who his attorney claims withheld evidence that supported his innocence.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Asheville, claims that Glen Edward Chapman was wrongly convicted of two murders because of police misconduct by detectives Dennis Alvin Rhoney and Mark Richardson Sams. It seeks an unspecified amount of compensation.

Chapman was convicted in 1994 for the murders of Tenene Yvette Conley, 28, and Betty Jean Ramseur, 31.

Prospective renters looking at a home in southeast Hickory discovered Conley’s body in a downstairs closet in August 1992. A week later, Ramseur’s body was found in a burned-out house in Hickory. She died several weeks earlier.

Chapman was exonerated in the crimes and released from prison in April 2008, five months after Judge Robert Ervin issued a 186-page ruling that said detective Rhoney withheld evidence and lied on the stand. He also said Chapman’s court-appointed defense attorneys did a poor job investigating the 1992 killings.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges Rhoney, the lead investigator in Ramseur’s case, intentionally withheld evidence from prosecutors. One item withheld was a memo about a phone call in which Rhoney was told that an inmate made incriminating statements about killing Ramseur to another inmate.

The lawsuit also claims Rhoney withheld information about a witness who identified a different man – not Chapman – in a photo lineup as the man he saw with a woman at the house where Ramseur’s body was found.

The lawsuit says detective Sams was the lead investigator in the Conley case and withheld interviews from prosecutors. One statement came from Conley’s housemate, who told officers Conley was last seen with two men – neither of them Chapman. One of the men had also reportedly been the last person seen with another woman before she was strangled years earlier.

Rhoney took over the Conley case after Sams left the police department in February 1994, but he, too, failed to turn over the evidence Sams withheld to prosecutors, the lawsuit says.

At trial, prosecutors had argued that Chapman beat the women to death in separate drug-related fights. Chapman had admitted that he knew both women and had smoked crack with each of them, but he denied any involvement in their deaths.

“All of the evidence goes against the state’s theories,” Chapman’s attorney Jessica Leaven said Wednesday.

Sams died in November 2009. Chapman is suing his estate.

Reached at home Wednesday, Rhoney declined to comment. He is no longer a police officer, Leaven said.

In 2008, the State Bureau of Investigation announced it would investigate Rhoney, who at the time was a Burke County sheriff’s deputy. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation’s results. The result of that investigation was unavailable Wednesday.

Hickory staff attorney Arnita Dula said Wednesday the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Chapman, 42, lives in Asheville and often gives lectures at local universities on life after death row, his attorney said.

After he was freed, Chapman declined to criticize either the criminal justice system or the investigators, including Rhoney.

“His fate is not in my hands,” Chapman told the (Raleigh) News & Observer the day of his release. “I have no bitterness. Why should I give somebody the benefit of knowing that they can just make me bitter?”

«Former death-row inmate sues city

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