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Wilmington Settles With Johnny Small For $7 Million

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A Wilmington man released from prison, after serving nearly three decades for a 1988 murder, will receive $7 million from the city. The New Hanover County Superior Court convicted Johnny Small in 1989 for the robbery and murder of a local pet shop owner. 

The Wilmington City Council approved the settlement in a special session Monday.

Small’s 1989 conviction was vacated in 2016 by Superior Court Judge Douglas Parsons. A key prosecution witness, who was Small’s co-defendant at the time of the trial, had recanted his original trial testimony, and it was discovered that procedural errors occurred and materials were not properly disclosed to the defense.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.

“The settlement reached today reflects an acknowledgement that WPD detectives made procedural errors in the investigation of this particular case over 30 years ago. Both the city and the Wilmington Police Department are confident that this is an isolated incident, and that there are currently many procedures and processes in place to ensure that mistakes like this did not happen again.”

The settlement was reached after Small filed a lawsuit against the city, former Wilmington Police Department detective J.J. Lightner, and five other officers.

The settlement will be spread across three payments over three years, according to city spokesperson. The money will come from the city's general fund.