Governor commutes sentence in 1997 Bertie murder case

Published 4:50 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

RALEIGH – Today (Wednesday) Governor Roy Cooper commuted the sentence of a man who has served 26 years in prison for a murder that occurred in Bertie County.

Darnell Cherry, 42, was 16-years-old when he was arrested and charged for his involvement in the Oct. 4, 1997 murder and robbery of Robert Earl Edwards, Jr. and the robbery and shooting of Sonja Williams in Bertie County. For those crimes, Cherry was sentenced, following his court trial in 1999, to a total of 47 years and 10 months in prison.

Prior to today’s action by the Governor, Cherry’s projected release date from prison was January 2035.

According to a press release from the Governor’s office, the state’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board recommended Cherry’s commutation.

While incarcerated, it was noted that Cherry has been consistently employed and has participated in learning programs, including obtaining his G.E.D. and trade qualifications.

His sentence was commuted to time served.

The commuted sentence is effective Jan. 3, 2024, according to the order signed by Cooper.

The commutation, as well as four pardons issued today by Cooper, follow an intensive review of cases, including the circumstances of the crimes, length of the sentences, records in prison, and readiness to reenter communities successfully after prison. The commutation follows a recommendation by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board, which the Governor established to review petitions from people sentenced to prison after crimes committed while they were under the age of 18.

All of the clemency actions followed review by the Office of Executive Clemency, the Office of General Counsel and the Governor.

“Ensuring careful review of cases while taking executive clemency action is a responsibility I take seriously,” said Cooper. “We carefully consider recommendations made by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board to commute sentences for crimes committed by minors. All of these individuals are deserving of clemency and we will continue to work to protect our communities and improve the fairness of our criminal justice system.”

The four people who received pardons of forgiveness are:

Portia Bright-Pittman, 38 who was convicted of accessory after the fact to armed robbery in Orange County in 2008. Bright-Pittman was 22 years old when the offense was committed. She has since worked in state government for many years.

W. Samuel Fagg, 43, who was convicted of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine in Wake County in 2002. Dr. Fagg was 21 years old when the offense was committed. He has since obtained a master’s degree and PhD and now conducts advanced scientific research related to regenerative medicine.

Tramayne Hinton, 42, who was convicted of robbery in Perquimans County in 1998. Hinton was 16 years old when the offense was committed. He has since completed high school and has worked in sales and marketing in addition to owning his own business.

Flemming Ragas, 45, who was convicted of breaking and entering, larceny, and possession of stolen goods in Lee and Cumberland counties in 1999. Ragas was 20 years old when the offenses were committed. Ragas served in the United States Army and National Guard, including two deployments to Iraq. For his service, Ragas received the Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal.