ABOVE: Norman Satterfield is pictured prior to his conviction.
ABOVE: Satterfield's statement, written in anticipation of his release.
Statement issued by Norman Satterfield:
First, I would like to say it’s been an extremely tedious and hard journey to get to this juncture in my life when I was tried and convicted of this heinous crime. I was in a state of utter disbelief, stunned completely! Then anger, resentment and animosity set in at different points during this anguished ordeal. I just could not fathom this happening to me, but as time moved forward, I felt I could no longer harbor these feelings in my heart nor my soul; so I finally forgave all parties involved. I also realized that [the victim] and myself were both victim’s of the same circumstances. So again, I hold no anger, resentment, nor animosity what so ever towards anyone in my heart.
Our judicial system has it’s flaws, but without a doubt it is the best this world has to offer. I would only hope that the investigating agencies and the state would please do a thorough job to ensure that no innocent person is wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit.
Last but certainly not least, I want to thank the Lord God Almighty for a loving and faithful mother who stood by me no matter what. I want to thank Him for my family and friends who were also there for me. I would like to thank the Lord for sending Mr. Mark Rabil and the Innocence and Justice Clinic to my defense to bring justice and closure to my life. Without these wonderful people, none of this would be possible. Again, thank you so very much.
If there are any questions you’d like to ask, please address them to my attorney Mr. Mark Rabil.
Homecoming Delayed: After having sentenced reduced, Statesville man returned to prison
Photo: Relatives of Norman Satterfield posed for this photo as they anticipated his release from prison on Friday morning. Soon thereafter, they were informed he would not be released as a result of questions about another case.
Judge reduces life plus 30-year sentence based on questions about whether Norman Satterfield received a fair trial, but Department of Corrections blocks his release
BY MIKE FUHRMAN
A day that should have ended with a happy homecoming for a Statesville man who was imprisoned for 37 years for crimes he claims he did not commit ended instead in additional heartbreak for his family when the N.C. Department of Corrections determined he could not be released Friday due to another old charge.
After three years of work by the Innocence & Justice Clinic of the Wake Forest School of Law raised legitimate concerns about prosecutorial conduct in the case that led to the rape and burglary conviction of Norman Satterfield, Iredell Superior Court Judge Lynn Gullett on Friday morning reduced Satterfield’s sentence of life plus 30 years in prison to a sentence of 88 years, which made him eligible for parole.
The action was the result of an agreement between the District Attorney’s Office and Satterfield’s attorney, Mark Rabi, the director of the Innocence & Justice Clinic.
Following the court hearing, Satterfield’s family waited for nearly two hours at the jail for him to be released only to be informed around 11:30 a.m. that he would not be coming home on Friday because there were questions about whether he had served a 10-year sentence for a robbery he committed while awaiting trial on the rape and burglary charges. He pleaded guilty to the robbery charge.
Research by the Innocence & Justice Clinic revealed that prosecutors in 1979 did not divulge to defense lawyers that the victim’s identification of Satterfield as her rapist was made under hypnosis, which was legal at the time but has since been deemed to be unreliable and inadmissible in court. Prior to being hypnotized, the victim told police she could not identify her attacker. That information was not provided to Satterfield’s lawyer prior to trial, but was discovered among 100 pages of documents in the case provided to Satterfield's defense team by the Statesville Police Department.
Friday’s court hearing was the result of an agreement between the District Attorney’s Office and Satterfield’s attorney, Mark Rabil.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Cranford emphasized Friday morning that Satterfield, who was 23 years old when he was arrested, was not being cleared of the charges. If and when he is released from prison, Satterfield will be required to register as a sex offender.
“The conviction will stand,” Cranford said. “This is not an exoneration.”
The judge praised the district attorney’s office and the Statesville Police Department for assisting the efforts of Rabil, his staff and the Wake Forest students who have worked more than 1,000 hours on Satterfield’s behalf since receiving his request for assistance in April 2013.
“This court is and should be about fairness,” Gullett said. “Our system does strive to be better each year.”
After the judge announced that she had signed the order clearing the way for Satterfield’s release, the defendant’s 28-year-old niece, Calista Connor, broke the silence in the courtroom with a spontaneous “Hallelujah!”
Efforts to exonerate Satterfield through DNA testing were unsuccessful because the Statesville Police Department lost or destroyed all evidence for cases prior to 1986, attorneys for both sides said.
Despite the prosecutor’s assertions in court, Rabil remains confident that his client will one day be cleared of the charges. He said his team will continue to labor on Satterfield’s behalf until that happens.
“We’re going to keep working on this because we think we know who the real guy is,” Rabil said.
Satterfield, now 60, is looking forward to doing a little fishing and may find work as a barber, his lawyer said. But he will find a very different world on the outside than the one he was removed from in October 1979 following his conviction.
In a hand-written statement released by his lawyer, Satterfield described the "anger, resentment and animosity" he has felt over the years.
"I just could not fathom this happening to me, but as time moved forward, I felt I could no longer harbor these feelings in my heart nor my soul; so I finally forgave all parties involved," he wrote.
Time and circumstances have made proving Satterfield’s innocence very difficult, his lawyer said.
“When you have a dead judge, a dead district attorney and a dead defense attorney, no files, and no physical evidence from that time period, your hands are tied behind your back,” Rabil said.
Efforts to locate the victim in the case were not fruitful, but her daughter apparently contacted prosecutors on Friday after seeing online reports about the case.
As they waited for Satterfield to be released, his mother, sister and other relatives talked with local reporters and TV crews from Charlotte about the ordeal they have endured, and the positive attitude and outlook the man they call “Babe-bro” has maintained while losing 37 years of his life.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Satterfield’s mother, Ruby Satterfield Connor, said while sitting on a bench in the jail lobby. “This is the work of the Lord. He may not always come when you want him, but he always comes on time.
“This is an answered prayer!”
Satterfield’s younger sister, Tracy Lazenby, testified during her brother’s trial that she was sitting on the sofa with him at the time he was accused of committing the crimes for which he was convicted. They were watching the cop show, “Mannix,” she said.
On Friday, she conceded there were times when the family felt anger and bitterness over the years. They’ve learned to let that go.
“Anger doesn’t get you anywhere,” she explained. “Keep the faith. Don’t ever give up even when all the odds are against you.”
The developments that sent Satterfield back to prison on Friday afternoon – he could have to serve at least part of the 10-year robbery sentence before being released—will again test the family’s patience and faith in the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, Rabil said his team will determine their next step, which could involve another court proceeding as early as next week.
Photo: Attorney Mark Rabil (left) and members of the Innocence & Justice Clinic of the Wake Forest School of Law who have been working to exonerate Norman Satterfield for the past three years.