When her 15-year-old son was arrested for a robbery he didn't commit, Karen Daniel fought to keep him out of prison. When Erick was convicted as an adult and sent away, the tenacious mother sought appeals and rallied anyone who would listen—politicians, police, lawyers, the media—to get him out. And although it has been more than a year since a Durham judge ruled that Erick Daniels was wrongfully convicted, his mother Karen is still fighting for justice from city officials and the state.
Karen Daniel (who dropped the S from her surname) is now urging the city of Durham and the state to compensate her son for the careless police work—and, she alleges, collusion among police officers—that robbed her son of seven years of his life.
On behalf of her son, Daniel has asked Gov. Bev Perdue for an official pardon and has sought an undisclosed financial settlement from the City of Durham. City Manager Tom Bonfield and city attorneys have scheduled a closed session with the City Council and could reach a resolution with the family as early as this week.
"It's time for the city to make this right," Karen Daniel said. "It's time for the state to make a pardon, and for Erick to have a normal life as a 23-year-old."
Perdue's office could not be reached for comment.
Erick Daniels, who declined to be interviewed, was convicted in 2001 in the armed robbery of a woman at a house on North Hoover Road. If he's pardoned by Perdue, Daniels would be eligible to collect from the state up to $50,000 per year he was wrongfully imprisoned, said Daron Satterfield, an attorney representing Daniels.
A jury convicted Daniels after police department employee Ruth Brown told police that on the night of Sept. 21, 2000, two men broke into her house and robbed her of $6,000 cash. Trial testimony revealed that the men were masked, and that Brown had picked Daniels as one of the robbers not out of a lineup under current standards but out of a middle-school yearbook, based on the shape of his eyebrows.
Because he had an extensive juvenile record, Daniels was tried as an adult and sentenced to up to 14 years in prison. A jury found the second defendant, Khalid Abdallah, not guilty. Throughout his imprisonment, Daniels maintained he wasn't involved in the crime. Abdallah also said Daniels wasn't the one who robbed Brown, who worked at the police department managing property and evidence.
Daniels' claims of innocence led to a 2007 investigation by the Independent, which unearthed more holes in the case. Fingerprints at the robbery scene didn't match Daniels', Brown's initial description of the gunman differed greatly from Daniels' appearance, and an investigator had conflicting notes and timelines on her own probe into the case. (See "Stolen youth: How Durham's criminal justice system sent Erick Daniels to prison for 10 years based on the shape of his eyebrows.")
Daniels was freed in September 2008 after an attorney asked Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson for a new trial. Hudson instead dismissed the charges against Daniels and chided police and an assistant district attorney for a negligent prosecution. (See "Finally free: Wrongly convicted of robbery, Erick Daniels served seven years before he was exonerated.")
Since his release, Daniels has retreated from the public eye, his mother said. He wanted a break from the chaos, from the tangled and tiresome process of pursuing further justice, compensation or a pardon. He wanted his life to himself.
Daniels has been working with a used-car sales company, his mother said, and seeking mentorship among people who want to help him adjust to life in the mainstream and continue his education. He struggles.
"Erick has allowed me to think all is well," Karen Daniel said. "But how the hell can you give up eight years of your life and not be scarred from that?"
Last month, Daniels was arrested on charges of carrying a concealed gun and illegal drugs. The gun wasn't loaded, and the drugs were Daniels' own prescription painkillers, his mother said. On Jan. 19, Daniels will be forced to return to the same Durham courthouse where twice he has faced a life-altering fate.