RALEIGH, N.C. -- Outgoing North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue issued a pardon for each of the Wilmington 10 on Monday.
The group known as the Wilmington 10 was wrongly convicted in a notorious Civil Rights-era prosecution.
For several weeks, supporters and surviving members of the Wilmington 10 have made trips to Raleigh to give Perdue names of people who wanted her to officially pardon the group.
Amnesty International and other groups took up the issue, portraying the Wilmington 10 as political prisoners.
"I have spent a great deal of time over the past seven months reviewing the pardon of innocence requests of the persons collectively known as the Wilmington Ten. This topic evokes strong opinions from many North Carolinians as it hearkens back to a very difficult time in our state’s past, a period of racial tensions and violence that represents a dark chapter in North Carolina’s history. These cases generate a great deal of emotion from people who lived through these traumatic events," Perdue said in a statement released to the press.
She continued, "In evaluating these petitions for clemency, it is important to separate fact from rumor and innuendo. I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained."
Benjamin Chavis and three other living Wilmington 10 members on Thursday morning led more than 40 people who presented 130,000 petition names to a Perdue staffer outside her office. Pardon backers gave 14,000 names earlier.
Nine black men and one white woman were convicted in 1971 of firebombing a Wilmington grocery store after police officers shot a black teenager. Then-Gov. Jim Hunt commuted their lengthy sentences in 1978, but stopped short of issuing pardons.
The group combined was sentenced to nearly 300 years.
Three key witnesses in the case later recanted their testimony. The pardon means the state no longer thinks the group committed a crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.