- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

OXFORD, N.C. (AP) - A Durham man who spent nearly 40 years in prison for a murder conviction is innocent, a special three-judge panel decided Friday.

Willie Henderson Womble, who was convicted in the 1975 slaying of a Butner convenience store clerk, was released from the Dan River Prison Work Farm in Yanceyville after the state Innocence Inquiry Commission’s decision.

“He’s emotional and very excited to be released and be with his family,” said Sharon Stellato, associate director of the commission.

In June, the commission recommended that the panel review Womble’s case. Womble had testified that police pressured him to confess to the killing. He said a Durham police detective threw him to the ground, threatened him and forced him to sign a confession he didn’t write.

Joseph Perry, who was also convicted of first-degree murder in the case, told the commission last year that another man was responsible for the death.

It’s the commission’s seventh exoneration since 2007.

“It’s another example of why the process is important,” Stellato said.

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