In addition to Barbara Stager, I was initially assigned the case of Michael Pinch. At the time, Mr. Pinch was represented by two of the best post-conviction attorneys in the state, Adam Stein and Ann Petersen. I dove into the Pinch trial transcript and subsequent pleadings, looking forward to learning from Adam and Ann. Ironically, Adam had been my supervising attorney during my second summer of law school at the law firm of Ferguson, Stein, Watts, Wallas and Atkins. The firm was a civil rights law firm. Adam was the former Appellate Defender for North Carolina but still had some death cases. We did not, however, work on any of these cases during my time at the firm.
Michael Pinch had been convicted in September 1980 of a double homicide and given double death sentences by the jury. Curiously, he had been on death row thirteen years. There had been five executions since Pinch had arrived on death row, and he was not even out of state post-conviction proceedings!
Adam and Ann had represented Pinch since his conviction, through direct appeal and into the post-conviction stage. They had filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief [MAR] on his behalf in 1984 asserting several constitutional errors at trial. This motion was denied by the Superior Court in 1985. The NC Supreme Court then denied review in 1988.
By 1988, favorable decisions from both the North Carolina Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court had come down on issues that were in Pinch’s case. Ann and Adam filed a Second MAR raising these new issues. The State waited five years to file its response, which it had done in February 1993. That’s where things stood.
I learned from the pleadings that it was undisputed that in 1979 at the age of 19, Pinch shot and killed two men, Freddie Pacheco and Tommy Ausley, at the Strokers’ Motorcycle Clubhouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. Pinch then fled to California, where he was arrested in Anaheim in February 1980. Following Pinch’s arrest, he confessed to Detectives, both orally and in writing.
As presented at trial, the State’s theory of the case was that Pinch deliberated and planned the murders of Ausley and Pacheco throughout the evening of October 18, 1979. Specifically, the State contended that Pinch repeatedly expressed to others his dislike for Pacheco, instructed Eanes to make sure that both Pacheco and Ausley arrived at the Clubhouse, borrowed a shotgun for the express purpose of killing them, told others that he intended to kill them, instructed Eanes to attack Pacheco with a knife and told him where and when to stab Pacheco, and then without provocation 20 minutes after this attack, shot and killed Pacheco and Ausley.
Pinch shot Pacheco first, then shot Ausley, and then shot Pacheco again. After the shootings, it was the State’s theory that Pinch then organized and orchestrated the removal of the bodies, directed the others present to dispose of the bodies and the manner in which the bodies were to be disposed, and then instructed these witnesses and others to clean the Clubhouse of any evidence of the crimes.
The State contended that Pinch showed no remorse and told others that Pacheco had been shot because he was either using “colors” that he was not entitled to wear, that he had insulted Pinch’s girlfriend, or that he was not a “one-percenter.”
Pinch’s attorneys admitted to the jury that Pinch shot Pacheco and Ausley; his defense was that the murders were second-degree murders rather than first-degree murders. That is, Pinch did not premeditate or deliberate the killings, that they occurred during a drunken fight at the Clubhouse, and that Pinch was sufficiently intoxicated to raise a reasonable doubt as to his ability to form a specific intent to kill.
After reading all the Pinch material, I called Ann to talk to her about what she wanted me to do on the case. “Now that the State has responded,” Ann said, “we need to review all the issues to make sure we do not need to amend the Second MAR or file any new motions.” “I can do that,” I responded. Then she added, “You should visit Michael. You will like him. He is a great guy.”
Really? A motorcycle gang member who killed two men in cold blood, a great guy? At least, I had reason to believe my first visit would go well.