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DNA gives hope to 1990 kidnapping suspect claiming innocence

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RALEIGH — An independent state agency says new DNA evidence suggests a man convicted of kidnapping a Franklin County woman in 1990 may not have committed the crime.

A panel of three superior court judges is now expected to consider reversing the conviction of Kenneth Leon Evans. At a Sept. 10 hearing, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission voted that there is “sufficient evidence of factual innocence” in the case.

The NCIIC, a state agency that investigates when convicted felons claim they are innocent, said new DNA tests excluded Evans as a suspect.

Following a 1995 trial, Evans was convicted for having broken into the home of Euther “Ray” Andrews Manning. Evans remains in prison on a maximum 90-year sentence.

According to police records, Manning found a burglar with a gun when she came home March 5, 1990. The suspect bound Manning with duct tape, dragged her from her home, stole Manning’s station wagon and drove Manning to the end of a dirt road, where the suspect left Manning and the car.

Manning was found hours later by a search party after she managed to escape the car.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office developed Evans as a suspect, but the NCIIC report said it’s not clear why. Evans eventually passed a polygraph test and a palm print found at the victim’s home was found not to match his.

Manning described her kidnapper as a 6-foot light-skinned black man that she didn’t recognize. Manning and Evans, who is 5-foot-9, were acquaintances.

Evans was arrested in 1994. A sheriff’s office informant who once shared a cell with Evans, Larry Davis, supposedly told lead detective Pat Green that Evans had admitted to Davis that he had kidnapped Manning.

In a disposition with investigators earlier this year, Davis denies ever telling Green that Evans had confessed.

“I didn’t say that,” Davis is shown saying in hearing documents. Davis also accused Green of being dishonest.

Green later became Franklin County Sheriff. In 2012, Green pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement for having taken more than $221,000 from the county.

The new investigation also included DNA testing on a head scarf worn by the suspect found at the crime scene. The DNA was found not to be a match to Evans.

Chief Justice of North Carolina Supreme Court, Cheri Beasley, will appoint a panel of three superior court judges to hear the case in Franklin County. It’s not clear when that will take place.

Evans has been in prison since 1992, when he began serving an unrelated sentence for raping a Franklin County woman in her home. Evans does not claim innocence in that case, but has long insisted he did not kidnap Manning, documents show.

The prison sentence for the rape concluded in 2011. Evans began serving the kidnapping sentence immediately afterward.