NC to release 20 longtime inmates

From the Associated Press via WBT News

Raleigh, NC, 10.15.2009

MIKE BAKER

North Carolina plans to release 20 longtime inmates after state courts agreed that a decades-old law defined life sentences as only 80 years long, officials said Thursday, and dozens more violent criminals could be eligible for release in coming months.

Each of the inmates, including seven who were initially sentenced to death, have been denied parole multiple times, according to the state.

Gov. Beverly Perdue is talking with state attorneys to see if there are options to prevent the release.

“I’m appalled that the state of North Carolina is being forced to release prisoners who have committed the most heinous of crimes, without any review of their cases,” Perdue said in a statement. “I don’t believe the General Assembly’s intent in 1974 was to let these violent offenders out of prison early. Releasing these potentially dangerous criminals is not in the best interest of the state or our citizens.”

One inmate, Bobby Bowden, had argued that a law adopted in 1974 clearly defined life sentences as 80 years. The convicted murder believed that the statute, combined with good conduct credits, means his life sentence is now complete.

The Court of Appeals sided with Bowden last year. North Carolina’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the state earlier this month after a lawyer from the attorney general’s office had argued that the 80 years likely was supposed to determine when somebody would be eligible for parole.

Justices on the high court balked at that argument, and an attorney for Bowden called it “legal gymnastics.” The statute, which was in place for several years in the 1970s, says: “A sentence of life imprisonment shall be considered as a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 80 years in the state’s prison.”

Thomas Bennett, executive director of the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network, said the plan to release the prisoners is dangerous.

“This is terrible. This is a disaster,” he said. “This is another example of victims not receiving consideration in the way the system works.”

Bowden was convicted in 1975 and initially sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later took him off death row, sending the case back for Bowden to get concurrent life sentences. He has been denied parole every year since 1987.

Corrections officials have worried that the case could eventually affect some 120 inmates sentenced when the law was in place.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 3:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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