RALEIGH, N.C. — Sally Holloman was convicted in 1981 of fatally poisoning her husband and killing a Selma businessman by shooting him five times in the back and setting him on fire.
About two decades later, then-Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue hired Holloman to work in her office in the State Capitol as part of a Department of Correction work-release program.
As governor, Perdue is now fighting the release of 27 inmates who were sentenced to life under an old sentencing law, but she said Tuesday that the two situations are "totally different."
Holloman was paroled in 2005. Perdue wrote a positive evaluation of Holloman's work, which was included in her file before the Parole Commission.
"Sally is now working in the private sector, making good money. She is an older woman who I believe is very well supervised," Perdue said.
Although Perdue has repeatedly backed up her refusal to release the inmates by saying she believes a life sentence should mean life in prison, she said Tuesday that supervision outside of prison is what separates the Holloman case from the rest.
The 27 inmates were scheduled to be released last Thursday after the state Supreme Court agreed with double murderer Bobby Bowden, who contended that a 1970s law defined a life sentence as 80 years and sued for his release.
The 1981 Fair Sentencing Act included a retroactive provision that essentially cut all of those sentences in half, and good behavior and other credits have shortened the sentences to the point that they are now complete.
Over time, Perdue said, more than 120 people serving life sentences could qualify for early release under the Supreme Court's ruling.
Holloman was in a supervised setting while working at the capitol and remains in one, Perdue said. The release of the 27 inmates she opposes doesn't provide them with any supervision once they get out of prison, she said.
"(I) support parole under the auspices of the Parole Commission, where there is community supervision," she said. "The release by the courts automatically of more than 120 rapists and murderers – people that are heinous – to live next door to you and your young child with no supervision is inappropriate in my opinion.
"I do not support automatic release without supervision. I can't see these (cases) are anything near the same."
According to the Department of Correction, 603 inmates serving life sentences have been paroled since 1995. All went through a comprehensive transitional program, and less than 8 percent returned to prison.
A majority of the 27 inmates covered by the court order will not have gone through any transitional program. Three of the inmates were enrolled in a work-release program and would have been free to pursue work outside prison walls before Perdue's decision to block their release.
Appellate defender Staples Hughes, who represents the inmates, said the state should immediately begin preparing the inmates for release by offering them job training, mentoring and other counseling.
"If the governor is saying, 'I am afraid that these people are going to be a problem for public safety,' let's do something about that because they're going to be released," Hughes said.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case in a few months.