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NC Supreme Court affirms life sentences from 1970s

Posted March 8, 2013

— North Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that criminals sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape and other crimes at a time in the 1970s, when a life term was defined by law as 80 years behind bars, will indeed spend life in prison.

The criminals and their laywers had argued that, with time served and credits earned for good behavior and productive work behind bars, those people had served their sentence and should be released.

The court ruled two years ago that those convicted of first-degree murder shouldn’t be released early despite whatever credits they earned.

In February, the high court heard the appeal of two prisoners, Clyde Vernon Lovette and Charles Lynch, whose offenses were less than premeditated murder.

Lovette, 56, pleaded guilty to a 1978 second-degree murder. The judge who sentenced him said evidence showed that the 21-year-old strangled a 4-year-old boy with a rope and that he “should never be paroled.”

Lynch, 61, was convicted of two counts of second-degree burglary. He broke into a victim’s home in 1978 while she was away, then assaulted her when she returned. He also broke into another victim’s home and stole a necklace.

The General Assembly revised sentencing laws in the 1980s and 1990s under pressure from lawsuits accusing overcrowded prisons of unconstitutional cruel punishment.

The state’s Division of Adult Correction has long had a system that allowed prisoners to earn credits for good conduct, called good time, and for working extra in prison kitchens or other jobs, called gained time, that would reduce their sentences.

In the case of prison lifers, the credits were used to determine parole eligibility, whether they’d enjoy reduced custody restrictions and to reduce their incarceration if they were later re-sentenced to a fixed number of years, the agency said.

Seven types of inmate were banned from earning sentence reduction credits, but the inmates sentenced during the 1970s period when “life” meant 80 years weren’t among them.

Lovette and Lynch argued to the high court that they had earned so many credits that their original 80-year life sentence term had diminished to around 30 by 2009, and they should be released.

Thirteen other inmates also have petitioned for their release under the same argument. Prosecutors say six were originally sentenced to death for rape. Three inmates got multiple life terms.

State Secretary of Public Safety Kieran Shanahan applauded the court ruling.

“Inmates sentenced to life in prison under past laws will continue to remain incarcerated until they are paroled,” Shanahan said in a statement. “Victims of these serious and violent crimes can know that these offenders will not be released into our communities until we are sure that they are no longer a threat to public safety.”

There are 122 prisoners currently in the state’s prisons who received life sentences defined as 80 years.

Shanahan said DPS would continue to encourage life sentence inmates to abide by prison rules and improve their behavior, so they may improve their chances of parole under appropriate supervision.


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  • beachboater Mar 11, 2013

    "Their crowded because of the obvious failure of the "war on drugs". 25%+ people locked up are for non-violent drug offenses. A total waste of money and resources. 100 plants is an automatic 5 year sentence. For growing PLANTS!!!!!" vinylcarwraps23

    I always wondered just how drug offences were non-violent. It seems to me that there are many home invasions and robberies just to support a drug habit. I really don't see drug charges as non-violent at all.

  • Sherlock Mar 11, 2013

    Finally a good decision for the joke group.

  • jjsmith1973 Mar 8, 2013

    "I think that the federal courts are going to overturn the NC Supreme Court on this one due to ex post facto issues

    I agree, I think people on here don't understand that. I don't think they understand the law can't be changed for people convicted under different rules just because they have decided to. Everyone applauding this thinking the state finally got something I will tell you exactly what you got from this. A fight in Federal Court, taxes paid to that. North Carolina once again being told they are violating not only their own rules at the state level but federal rules, so Another national headline on just how stupid the NC court system is. That is what you got more taxes paid to fight for something that is obviously a violation of the law

  • lwe1967 Mar 8, 2013

    Hope that this will put a lid on this now. You can be sure that the ACLU and others will try and over turn that. I do not think that the ACLU is always for the people and are mainly causing havoc everywhere.

  • foghat001 Mar 8, 2013

    Excellent decision. But prisons must be made into labor farms, where the prisoners grow their own food, and a bad harvest will result in very hard times for the prisoners. Their survival should be made to depend on them, not so much on the taxpayers.

  • whatelseisnew Mar 8, 2013

    "Lovette, 56, pleaded guilty to a 1978 second-degree murder. The judge who sentenced him said evidence showed that the 21-year-old strangled a 4-year-old boy with a rope and that he “should never be paroled"

    Paroled???? He ought to have been hung with the same rope he used on the boy.

  • pgonz62 Mar 8, 2013

    I believe they should be let out of their life sentences at the same time the victims and their families are let out of their life sentence of the horror, the memories, the loss they suffered. Then and only then.

  • dirtydozen431 Mar 8, 2013

    Fine, then give them the death penalty.

  • trekkie13 Mar 8, 2013

    I think that the federal courts are going to overturn the NC Supreme Court on this one due to ex post facto issues and equal protection under the law.

  • Hans Mar 8, 2013

    "... Yeah your right , They should just be put to death." - Stringbean
    March 8, 2013 1:57 p.m

    That's fine, but that wasn't their sentence.