10/11/07 — Governor gives Dwayne Dail an official 'not guilty'

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Governor gives Dwayne Dail an official 'not guilty'

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 11, 2007 2:11 PM

Nearly a month and a half after being released from prison after serving 18 years for a crime he didn't commit, Dwayne Dail received a full pardon from Gov. Mike Easley Wednesday afternoon.

The phone call -- from Chris Mumma, Dail's lawyer and the director at the N.C. Center for Actual Innocence -- came at about 4 p.m.

"When she told me, she just told me deadpan -- 'You've got your pardon,'" he said. "I was so happy. I just started screaming. Everyone here was asleep, taking a nap. I went in and just jumped up and down on my sister's bed, yelling 'I've got my pardon. I've got my pardon.'"

It was a moment that he'd been waiting for since his release six weeks ago in a Wayne County courtroom.

"I've been impatient," he said. "I didn't realize it would take so much time, but somebody told me this was the quickest pardon they'd seen, so I really appreciate the governor doing that."

The governor's office had no comment. It was only Easley's fifth pardon since 2001, despite more than 450 requests.

For his part, though, Dail celebrated the news quietly with his family -- mother Rose Dail, brother Gary Dail, sister Diana Davis and her son T.J. Davis -- in their home in Fort Myers, Fla., where Dail has taken up residence.

"I sat on the back porch with my family, and we opened up a bottle of champagne and we just celebrated. Everybody got a little teary and a little weepy, but it was really, really nice," he said.

The pardon now allows Dail, 39, the opportunity to ask the state to compensate him for his time in prison -- $20,000 a year for a total of $360,000.

Until now, the only money he has had of his own was a $45 gate check he received after being released.

"There's no amount of money that could give me my life back -- the almost 19 years I spent in prison. There's no way you could replace a single day of that," he said.

But, he continued, he knows how to make it worthwhile.

"I'm going to appreciate it, and I'm going to make sure I get my education," he said. "My education is paramount to my future. That, and my family, is what I'm going to invest in."

Come January, he plans to enroll in Florida Gulf Coast University, and within four years, complete his associate degree in computer technology, his bachelor's degree in criminal justice and his master's degree in criminal forensics.

He hopes to eventually be able to work to help keep people like him from being wrongfully convicted -- a mission he actually already began when he spoke to the American Society of Crime Lab Directors in Orlando.

"The job they do is incredibly important. They actually hold lives in their hands, and I hope I reminded them of that," he said. "I'm going to do all I can to prevent this from happening to anybody else."

In the short run, though, and looking toward his goal of giving back to his family, he plans to bring his 18-year-old son Christopher Michaels down to live with him.

"I love my son, and I miss him. I've only been able to spend a few days with him since I've been out," Dail said.

Michaels hadn't been born yet when Dail was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree sex offense, first-degree rape and taking indecent liberties with a minor, in connection with the rape of a 12-year-old girl on March 20, 1989.

Dail's release came on Aug. 28, when Wayne County Superior Court Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr. set aside his sentence and dismissed all the charges.

That reversal was motivated by a box of evidence found by Goldsboro police investigators Robert Smith and William Cassady in July.

Inside the box were the victim's nightgown, a sheet and other items that had never been entered into evidence.

At the request of Ms. Mumma, that evidence was then fast-tracked to the State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab. As soon as DNA tests came back proving Dail's innocence, Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory filed to have the charges dropped.

Since then, Dail has been adjusting to life outside of prison.

"It's a tough process. It's not easy when you miss 19 years of your life and then you're just dropped back into society," he said.

It's allowed him, though, to have a lot of firsts, including an airplane flight from Fort Myers to Raleigh -- something he swore before he would never do.

But the hardest part, he said, has probably been adjusting to all the new technologies and the higher cost of living.

"My sister puts about $70 worth of gas in her truck. I remember paying $5 and driving around for a couple of days," he said.

Fortunately, his family has been there to help him through it, although he hopes the money and his education will allow him pay them back.

"It's tough being so dependent on my family. I have my freedom and now I'm looking forward to gaining my independence," he said. "I have plenty of life left in me and I'm going to live it to the fullest."