Rape case review ordered

RALEIGH — A North Carolina panel with a unique function determined Wednesday that a man convicted of a rape 25 years ago should get a chance at freedom, thanks largely to fingerprints on bananas.

The state Innocence Inquiry Commission decided unanimously that enough credible evidence of innocence exists to refer the case of Willie Grimes to a three-judge panel that will make the ultimate decision about whether his conviction should be overturned.

Grimes, 65, reacted to the news by saying, "That's good. That's very good," according to his lawyer, Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, which advocates for convicts seeking exoneration.

Grimes was convicted in 1988 of two counts of first-degree rape and one count of second-degree kidnapping in the Oct. 24, 1987 assault on a 69-year-old woman in Hickory. He's serving his sentence at the Gaston Correctional Center.

He's always maintained his innocence in the case.

Among the physical evidence presented to the commission for its review were fingerprints found on bananas in the victim's home.

An analyst testified Monday that the fingerprints matched a different man, who had a lengthy criminal record.

The innocence commission, which is unique in the country, makes recommendations that cases be reviewed only if they meet rigorous criteria. If the commission makes a recommendation, the cases are taken up by a three-judge panel that can reverse a conviction only if the decision is unanimous.

It usually takes between five and nine months for a panel of judges to be appointed and hear a case recommended by the innocence commission.