A North Carolina man, who was sentenced to death for a murder 43 years ago, was freed after the US prosecutors dropped their case against him. The 81-year-old Charles Ray Finch was released last month after his case was dismissed on the grounds that police mishandled the investigation.

In 1976, the man was accused of shooting a storekeeper during an attempted robbery. He was sentenced to death for the murder which he claimed he did not commit. Later the man was commuted to life imprisonment.

On Wednesday, the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said that a new trial is impossible in the case as most of the witnesses are either dead or have moved away. In 2002, a team of law students attempted to re-study the case and discovered several problems that raised doubts on the conviction,  including police manipulation of witnesses during a line-up and lying about a ballistics report.

A witness said to the police that the suspect had been wearing a coat at the time of the killing. Finch was the only one in the room made to wear a coat. An appeal court ruled in January that if the jury had been aware of such manipulations it would not have convicted Finch, and overturned the verdict.

Finch came back to his family after he was released from jail in a wheelchair in May. “Mr. Finch’s exoneration illustrates the continuing failure of the judicial system to protect the innocent in death-penalty cases, and particularly prisoners of color,” said DPIC director Robert Dunham.

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