Judges Uphold Bragg Murder Conviction

Published Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 12:23 pm

A panel of three Superior Court judges unanimously upheld the 1996 conviction of Robert Charles Bragg in the murder of Coy Hartley, who was killed in his home in Boone in December of 1994. The panel held the evidentiary hearing last week and the decision was made on July 28.

Several months ago, the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission voted 6 to 2 that there was sufficient evidence to merit judicial review of Bragg’s case. Below are the statements/releases from the District Attorney Seth Bank’s office and the N.C. Center for Actual Innocence, which investigates credible claims of innocence on behalf of North Carolina inmates, has represented Mr. Bragg for years.

Release from District Attorney’s Office

On July 28, 2017, after a weeklong hearing, a panel of three Superior Court Judges unanimously upheld the 1996 conviction of Robert Charles Bragg in the murder of Coy Hartley.

District Attorney Seth Banks

In December of 1994, Marvin “Coy” Hartley, a 76-year-old man, was murdered in his home in Boone, North Carolina. The autopsy revealed that Mr. Hartley died from a blunt force traumatic injury to his head. After a joint investigation by the Boone Police Department and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Kenneth Eugene Coffey and Robert Charles Bragg were identified as suspects and charged with murder.

On December 1, 1995, Mr. Coffey was found guilty by a Watauga County jury of First Degree Murder. Subsequently, On February 26, 1996, Mr. Bragg was found guilty by a Watauga County jury of First Degree Murder.

 In September of 2016 the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission voted 6 to 2 that there was sufficient evidence to merit judicial review.  The hearing before the three judge panel began on July 24, 2017.

“We approach every case from the perspective that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer,” District Attorney Seth Banks said in a statement.  “Therefore, my office respects the search for the truth that occurred through this process.  In finding that Mr. Bragg has failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent, the Court has confirmed that the original 1996 verdict should stand.” 

“I would like to thank Assistant District Attorney Matt Rupp, Capt. Andy LeBeau and Lt. Chris Hatton with the Boone Police Department, and Special Agent Wade Colvard with State Bureau of Investigations, for their hard work over the last several months as we reexamined the evidence in this case.  Finally, I would like to thank former District Attorneys Tom Rusher and Jerry Wilson, as well as the original investigators from both the Boone Police Department and the SBI, for their work on this case in the mid-1990s, and for their cooperation as we prepared for this hearing.”

Statement by The N.C. Center on Actual Innocence

Robert Bragg, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of Marvin “Coy” Hartley in Boone, N.C., has proclaimed his innocence for 23 years. The N.C. Center on Actual Innocence (Center), which investigates credible claims of innocence on behalf of North Carolina inmates, has represented Mr. Bragg for years.

The Center conducted extensive investigation in the case and interviewed many witnesses before referring the case to the Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2010 so it could use its statutory authority to access additional information and witnesses. In September 2016, the evidence from its investigation was presented to an eight-member panel in a 3-day hearing. The evidence included the full recantation of a key witness at the time of the murder, Jeffrey Nelson, who was 10 at the time of his testimony. Additionally, DNA testing identified the victim’s blood on codefendant Kenneth Coffey’s clothing. The Commission panel found “sufficient evidence of innocence” to recommend a full evidentiary hearing before a 3-judge panel.

The hearing the week of July 24th before the Honorable Joseph Crosswhite, Gale M. Adams, and Marvin K. Blount, who were tasked with determining, by unanimous vote, whether Mr. Bragg had proven by clear and convincing evidence, an extremely high evidentiary standard, that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. While the panel did not ultimately determine that Mr. Bragg met this high burden, Mr. Bragg continues to maintain his innocence.

“The 1994 investigation of the murder of Coy Hartley was plagued by bias and tunnel vision within hours after the murder. Many of the causation issues that can lead to wrongful conviction were cornerstones of Mr. Bragg’s conviction – ignoring evidence that pointed away from Mr. Bragg, including his alibi; interrogations filled with leading questions; and incentivized witnesses. The three-judge panel is focused on evidence of innocence, not the lack of evidence of guilt. Based on the new evidence identified through recent investigations, and the district attorney’s own statement that Mr. Bragg’s case could not be won if he was tried today, we will continue to fight for him through all available options,” Center Director Chris Mumma said.

The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence would like to thank its private donors and the foundations that make its non-profit work possible: A.J. Fletcher Foundation, NC Bar Association Foundation, NC IOLTA, Park Foundation, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. For more information on the work of the Center, please visit our website at www.nccai.org.

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