Andrew Dys

Lawyer says Chester parolee for 1973 murder will be released soon

Ray Charles Degraffenreid will soon be released from prison on parole, after four decades in prison for a Chester murder that he, his lawyer and now police say he did not commit.

Lawyer Joshua Kendrick, appointed to represent Degraffenreid, said he is meeting with Degraffenreid Tuesday at the Gilliam correctional facility in Columbia where Degraffenreid remains housed after being paroled Nov. 29. Release is pending and could come within days, Kendrick said.

Degraffenreid and James Robert McClurkin were paroled in late 2016 for the 1973 killing of Claude Killian of Chester, after police said the men are innocent. McClurkin was freed from prison in November, but Degraffenreid, 61, awaits release into a care center due to mental health concerns incurred over his almost 40 years of incarceration.

“We want to get him released,” Kendrick said. “That’s first. To get him out.”

After that, Kendrick said, will be more investigation into why Degraffenreid was in prison since his 1977 conviction. For decades, Degraffenreid and McCurkin claimed innocence. .

Melvin “Smokey” Harris, a convicted killer who died in prison in 2015, confessed to killing Killian.

But until 2016 nobody believed the men. They each were denied parole 15 times. The difference in 2016 came when Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood told the South Carolina parole board that his office had re-opened the case and found Degraffenreid and McCurkin are innocent, had alibis, and there were other problems with the original case.

A judge in Chester, told by prosecutors of the potential new evidence, appointed each man a new lawyer in June of 2016 and the parole board granted release to both.

McClurkin, also 61, told the Herald in an exclusive interview when he was released from prison Nov. 17 that he is committed to having his name cleared.

The Herald found court documents in October that show that Harris, who testified against both men, was also charged with Killian’s murder but never prosecuted.

Any potential hearings for a potential wrongful imprisonment hearing for McClurkin and Degraffenried that could potentially vacate the convictions and exonerate the men have not been scheduled. Kendrick reiterated Monday that Degraffenreid is innocent of the 1973 crime and his efforts will not cease to find justice.

“His parole was the first step among many,” Kendrick said.