On December 14-15, 2021, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC) held a hearing in State v. John Pritchard, 11 CRS 304-305 (Yancey County).
The case arises from death of Jonathan Russell Whitson who died on March 6, 2011. On April 17, 2014, John Pritchard was convicted, after a jury trial, of Second-Degree Murder, Delivery of Controlled Substance Schedule II, Possession with the Intent to Sell, Manufacture, Deliver (PWISD) Schedule II Controlled Substance, and Maintain Vehicle/Dwelling/Place for Controlled Substances (Misdemeanor). The Commission did not consider the misdemeanor conviction as misdemeanors are not statutorily eligible for review by the Commission.
During the hearing, NCIIC Executive Director Lindsey Guice Smith, presented the case to the Commissioners. The Commission’s lead investigator on this case was Staff Attorney Julie Bridenstine. After carefully considering the evidence, the Commission concluded by a vote of 6-2 that there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence to merit judicial review for 11 CRS 304, Second-Degree Murder. The Commission concluded by a vote of 7-1 that there was not sufficient evidence to merit judicial review for 11 CRS 305, Delivery of Controlled Substance Schedule II, and Possession with the Intent to Sell, Manufacture, Deliver (PWISD) Schedule II Controlled Substance.
11 CRS 304 was referred forward for a hearing before a three-judge panel. Chief Justice Paul Newby will appoint a panel of three superior court judges to hear the case in Yancey County.