RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina prosecutor has dismissed charges against a man who was 16 years old when he was convicted of murder and imprisoned 28 years ago, saying there’s not enough evidence to try the case again.
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said Thursday that his office will not prosecute 43-year-old Johnny Small for murder a second time.
“Ultimately, the challenge of retrying a 28-year-old homicide in which there is no physical evidence and where two material witnesses have been discredited by the court proved too great to overcome,” David said in a news release.
At the end of a hearing in August, Judge W. Douglas Parsons ruled that Small had not received a fair trial. It was physically impossible for a supposed eyewitness have seen Small leaving the tropical fish store in Wilmington where Pam Dreher was killed in 1988, and police withheld key evidence, he ruled.
In addition, Small’s teenage friend testified that police pressured him to say both he and Small were at the scene.
David Bollinger said a Wilmington homicide investigator made up the story and his grandfather pressured him to lie on the witness stand. Bollinger said he could no longer keep quiet and was ready to face the chance of being prosecuted for perjury on the witness stand nearly three decades ago.
The judge released Small on house arrest and gave prosecutors the option of trying the case again.
The attorney general’s office, which handled the hearing because of a conflict of interest within the district attorney’s office, decided not to retry the case, David said, and he filed the dismissal Thursday.
“I’m very appreciative that justice will finally be done for Johnny Small,” Small’s attorney, Chris Mumma, said in a telephone interview. “I regret that the district attorney made his decision that there was not enough evidence to re-try him, rather than recognizing that there was never any reliable or credible evidence to convict him in the first place. The jury would have agreed with that had everything that should have been available been made available.”
Small was 15 years old when he was arrested and 16 when he was convicted in Dreher’s murder. No gun, fingerprints or blood-spattered clothing tied Small to the crime.
David said he talked with the victim’s family before dismissing the charges. “After discussing the matter at length with investigators and Pamela Dreher’s family, we have determined that taking this dismissal is the right thing to do,” he said.
The dismissal means Small is no longer under house arrest, David said.