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Charlie Mason ALSTON Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 30, 1990
Date of birth: February 10, 1959
Victim profile: Pamela Renee Perry, 25
Method of murder: Asphyxiation or suffocation
Location: Warren County, North Carolina, USA
Status: Sentenced to death November 3, 1992. Commuted to life in prison 2002

Charlie Mason Alston - Chronology of Events

01/10/02 - Governor Michael Easley commutes Alston's sentence to life in prison without parole

12/03/01 -  Correction Secretary Theodis Beck sets execution date for January 11, 2002.

11/16/01 - United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed Alston's appeal of the District Court's denial on the grounds that his notice of appeal was not timely filed.

08/10/99 - United States District Court denies Alston's petition for habeas corpus.

09/08/95 - North Carolina Supreme Court affirms Alston's conviction and sentence of death.

11/03/92 - Charlie Alston sentenced to death in Warren County Superior Court.


Charlie Alston was sentenced to death Nov. 3, 1992 in Warren County Superior Court for the murder of Pamela Renee Perry. 

Evidence at Alston's trial showed that Pamela Perry died sometime during the late evening hours of November 30, 1990 or the early morning hours of 1 December 1990.

The victim's mother discovered her daughter's body on the morning of December 1 after returning home from work. Pamela's mother testified that when she first saw her daughter, Pamela was lying face down on a pillow in her bedroom. When she lifted Pamela's head, she discovered that her face had been beaten severely. 

The Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina testified that he performed an autopsy on the Pamela and testified that Pamela received a number of blunt-force injuries to her face.

He stated that she suffered substantial bruising and swelling over her entire face and neck, bruising and lacerations to her right eye, bruising on the left side of her neck, a tear in the skin at the corner of her mouth, a series of tears in the skin on the right cheek, tears in the skin on her left ear, tears to the skin along the left side of her jaw which were approximately one inch deep, a tear to the inner surface of her lip, and several scrapes and abrasions.

The internal examination disclosed blood over the surface of the brain, resulting from the blows to the face, and hemorrhaging inside her neck, larynx, and trachea. Pamela also had bruises and bleeding in the eyes. The medical examiner testified that these injuries were probably caused by a hammer that was found on Pamela's bed. 

Pamela did not die as a result of the blunt-force injuries, but died as a result of asphyxiation or suffocation, normally taking at least 3 to 4 minutes to accomplish. He testified that Pamela was alive when she received the blunt-force injuries.

Pamela's mom's testimony revealed that Charlie Alston and Pamela had been dating each other for approximately one year. However, at some point in time prior to the murder, difficulties arose between the two of them. Pamela had been receiving threatening phone calls from Alston and he kept telling her that she had a beautiful face and that he would hate to have to "smash it in" and "mess [it] up."

Pamela filed a complaint with the Warren County Sheriff's Department. Police testified that Pamela told them that the caller sounded like Alston and had threatened to kill her during one of the phone calls.

Pamela's mother also said that her daughter was a waitress and received a large quantity of quarters from tips earned on her job. Most of the coins had been rolled and placed in a large jar on a table in the her bedroom containing more than $100. When Pamela's body was discovered, the jar was found empty at the edge of her bed.

A clerk at a convenience store testified that on the night after Pamela was discovered dead, Alston came into the store and purchased gas and a soft drink with quarters. Testimony showed that Alston had also purchased $40 to $45 worth of crack cocaine and paid with change around the time of the murder.

Other testimony revealed that on a separate occasion, Alston broke into Pamela's home and assaulted her and a friend. During this incident, he beat her in the head and was charged with assault. He was found guilty, placed on probation and ordered to pay for Pamela's medical bills. Two days later, she was found dead. 


A condemned man who steadfastly denied beating his girlfriend to death escaped execution Thursday when Gov. Mike Easley commuted his death sentence to life in prison. Charlie Mason Alston Jr., 42, was to die by injection early Friday. Alston was sentenced in 1992 for the beating and suffocation death two years earlier of Pamela Renee Perry, who was hit in the face with a hammer.

No one witnessed the killing and no blood or fingerprint evidence was ever linked to Alston, who had been convicted about six weeks earlier for assaulting Perry. Alston contended his innocence could have been proved by DNA tests on evidence that has since disappeared.

Prosecutors said the evidence, scrapings from beneath Perry's fingernails, would confirm the guilty verdict. Easley did not specify why he commuted the sentence, saying only that after scrutinizing the case "the appropriate sentence ... is life in prison without parole." The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Alston's two remaining appeals Thursday afternoon.



Crucial evidence missing

Death row inmate hoped to benefit from new law granting convicts access to DNA testing

By Stephen Wissink

06 Jan 2002

In the moments before her death, Pamela Perry left police a clue. She clawed her attacker, providing sheriff's deputies with skin scrapings from under her fingernails that could have been tested for the DNA of her killer.

Today, less than a month before his scheduled execution, the man convicted of killing Perry wants to utilize a new state law that forces investigators to test the skin scrapings against his own DNA in a last-ditch effort to prove his innocence.

The convicted killer, Charlie Mason Alston, faces a major obstacle, however. The police have either lost or destroyed the evidence.

"They tested every stitch of his clothing for [the victim's] blood and didn't find anything," says Mark Edwards, the Durham attorney for Alston, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection at Central Prison on Jan. 11. "They tested for fibers on his clothing and didn't find anything. They tested for fingerprints and didn't find anything. The only item they didn't test was the one piece of evidence that could prove Mr. Alston didn't commit the crime."

Last July, legislators approved a law that requires police to keep DNA evidence in storage and test it at the request of inmates trying to prove their innocence. They passed the law after two murder suspects and a convicted rapist were cleared of all charges earlier this year in North Carolina by DNA tests.

Nationwide, more than 90 convicted inmates have been cleared by DNA evidence, including on 11 death rows in Maryland, Illinois, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida and Idaho.

"The legislative intent is to provide added protection to make sure no innocent people were convicted," says state Rep. Joe Hackney, a Chapel Hill Democrat who sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives.

"We didn't think about what would happen if the evidence was lost," adds state Sen. Frank Ballance Jr., a Democrat from Warren County who sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is located in the nucleus of skin and blood cells and provides an individual's unique genetic blueprint. Investigators routinely test DNA from victims to either arrest or clear suspects.

Last week, Edwards and Alston's other attorney, Janine Fodor, asked a circuit court judge to delay Alston's Jan. 11 execution. They want the court to order another search for the DNA evidence and, if it isn't found, they want Alston cleared of the murder, granted a new trial or his death sentence commuted to life.

"Commutation is sort of a middle-ground compromise," Fodor says. "Assuming that the state cannot find the DNA, at least if Mr. Alston is alive, lawyers and his family can keep working on this case, trying to prove his innocence. If he is executed, it is too late to do anything."

Hackney and Ballance doubt the court will grant the request. Jim Coleman, a law professor at Duke who has handled the appeals of several condemned inmates, including the notorious Ted Bundy, agrees.

"The courts are not going to grant a new trial under the possibility that there is evidence that could exonerate him," Coleman says. "Once a person is convicted, the whole system is set up to make sure they remain convicted. It's almost impossible to overturn a jury verdict."

All of Alston's prior appeals in state and federal courts were rejected. A federal district judge ruled in 1999 that Alston wasn't entitled to DNA testing because his lawyers couldn't prove that police had lost or destroyed the skin scrapings in "bad faith," as required by the 1984 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Trombetta.

Alston, an ex-boyfriend of Perry, was convicted in 1992, nearly two years after the killing. He was found guilty of repeatedly smashing Perry's face with a hammer, leaving a wall sprayed with blood, before holding her face against a pillow until she suffocated in her bed. He also was charged with stealing about $100 in change that Perry, a waitress, kept in a jar at her bedside.

The crime occurred in Warren County, northwest of the Triangle at the Virginia border.
Sheriff's deputies focused on Alston because he had slapped Perry six weeks before the killing when he broke into her trailer and found her with another man. He was found guilty of assault two days prior to the Dec. 1, 1990, murder, and afterward, Perry, then 25, told friends and family that she received threatening phone calls from Alston, who was 31 at the time.

Police also found witnesses who testified that shortly after the murder, Alston bought a small amount of gasoline and a soft drink with change at a convenience store, purchased crack cocaine with quarters, and exchanged $40 in coins for dollar bills from the dealer's housemate. After the crack dealer agreed to testify against Alston, drug charges against the dealer were reduced from selling crack, a felony, to possession, a misdemeanor. During the trial, the dealer couldn't recall when Alston made the purchase.

Meanwhile, Alston's appeal lawyers contend, his trial attorneys never asked to review the sheriff's department case files and never presented key evidence that could have led a jury to cast reasonable doubt on his guilt. The case file, reviewed by Spectator, includes:

- A statement from Perry's then-boyfriend that he was on the phone with her until 11:45 p.m., at which time Alston was with a friend driving around town.

- A statement from a state trooper -- who came upon Alston and the friend when they ran out of gas at about 12:30 a.m. -- that he didn't see blood on Alston's clothing or any large amounts of change in his possession.

- A statement from a sheriff's deputy and one of Perry's colleagues that she feared not only Alston, but also an unidentified former boyfriend from Durham.

- Evidence that police found two unidentified fingerprints on the coin jar that did not match Alston's.

- Evidence that no blood or fibers were found on Alston's clothing.

- That another man was supposed to take Perry to the train station in Raleigh to pick up her niece at midnight. The same man was inside Perry's mobile home when detective Fonzie Flowers showed up, an hour after the sheriff's department received a 911 call for help.

During the autopsy, medical examiner John Butts noticed Perry's fingernails were ragged, as if she had scratched her killer. He sent the nails and scrapings to the sheriff's office, whose records show they were never turned over for testing to the State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab. In 1996, when Edwards took over the case, he discovered the medical examiner's records, which were never obtained by Alston's trial attorneys.

Warren County Sheriff Johnny Williams, who as a detective investigated the murder, declined to discuss what happened to the skin scrapings or the department's procedures for cataloging and preserving evidence. All other evidence in the case has been kept, says Edwards, who inspected a cardboard box in which the sheriff's department preserved the evidence against Alston.

"If the state has DNA, and if they can just lose it because it would help the defendant, then there has to be severe consequences, or else the police won't have any incentive to preserve evidence," Edwards says.

In 1996, during one of Alston's appeals, Williams wrote a brief letter to the courts saying the evidence simply was lost:

"I Johnny M. Williams, Sheriff of Warren County, has [sic] diligently searched the evidence room and all other areas throughout the Sheriff's Department for fingernail scrapings from the victim in this case. Inwhich [sic] I have been informed that the evidence was turned over to this department."

Valerie Spalding, the state's assistant attorney general fighting Alston's appeals, declined to comment. She has, however, instructed Williams to prepare a report about what happened to the DNA evidence, and is expected to argue that the new state law took effect Oct. 1 and doesn't apply to jury decisions before then.

If Alston's latest appeal fails, his last chance will be to seek clemency from Gov. Mike Easley. The governor doesn't discuss what factors he considers in clemency requests, says press secretary Fred Hartman, and in fact, Easley has never explained why he reduced death row inmate Robert Bacon's sentence to life in October but rejected clemency requests from five others who were executed this year.

Of the 358 inmates sentenced to die since the 1977 re-instatement of the death penalty, nearly 30 percent of the sentences (105) have been reduced because of trial errors, according to the Department of Correction's Web site.

Duke professor Coleman, who is against the death penalty, says the Alston case illustrates another failing of the legal system's pursuit of executions.

"The significance of DNA cases goes beyond a single individual case," he says. "We have to examine what else went wrong. Why was an innocent man convicted? DNA cases give insight into how the system is working or not working."

Coleman notes the U.S. legal system was predicated on constitutional safeguards based on the philosophy that it is better to free 10 guilty people than imprison an innocent person. That no longer is true, he says.

"Now, in order to get people who are guilty, we are willing to incarcerate a few innocent people."



Charlie Mason Alston



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