On June 4-7, 2019, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission held a hearing related to two separate convictions for claimant Merritt Williams: State vs. Merritt Williams Drayton (Forsyth – 86 CRS 018809 - Wilson) and State vs. Merritt Williams Drayton (Forsyth – 86 CRS 031738 - Bryson). Williams pled guilty to the September 17, 1983, murder of Arthur Wilson in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Williams was convicted after a trial for the December 10, 1985, murder of Blanche Bryson in Winston-Salem.
During the hearing, the Commission’s executive director, Lindsey Guice Smith, presented the case to the Commissioners. The Commission’s lead investigators on this case were Associate Director Beth Tanner, Grant Staff Attorney Catherine Matoian, and Staff Attorney Brian Ziegler. After carefully considering the evidence, the Commission concluded that there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence to merit judicial review in State vs. Merritt Williams Drayton (86 CRS 031738 - Bryson). This case was referred forward for a hearing before a three-judge panel. Cheri Beasley, chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, will appoint a panel of three superior court judges to hear the case in Forsyth County. After carefully considering the evidence, the Commission concluded that there was not sufficient evidence of factual innocence to merit judicial review in State vs. Merritt Williams Drayton (86 CRS 018809 – Wilson).
The Commission’s investigation in the Bryson case included an admission of guilt by an alternate suspect as well as DNA testing confirming the alternate suspect’s presence at the crime scene. The alternate suspect has been arrested on charges related to the homicide of Blanche Bryson and an investigation by the Winston-Salem Police Department is ongoing.
The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is a state agency charged with investigating post-conviction claims of factual innocence. The agency was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and began operations in 2007. The Commission is the first and only of its kind in the country. Since 2007, the Commission has conducted investigations that have resulted in the exoneration of 11 individuals and over 2,600 claims have been submitted to the agency.
For more information, please contact the Commission’s Executive Director, Lindsey Guice Smith, at 919-890-1580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the Commission’s website at www.innocencecommisson-nc.gov.