Local Politics

Former prisoner's case changed N.C.'s death penalty law

Posted November 17, 2009

— Twenty-seven convicted murderers and rapists in North Carolina prisons were scheduled to be released last month due to a State Court of Appeals ruling.

The decision set off a firestorm with Gov. Bev Perdue, who has vowed to keep the inmates behind bars until legal issues involving their release are resolved.

Faith helped shape ex-inmate's life Faith helped shape ex-inmate's life

Some of those inmates have a chance at freedom, thanks to James Tyrone Woodson.

"It was my case in 1976 that overturned the death penalty in the state of North Carolina," Woodson said.

Now 58, Woodson was convicted in 1974 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of a convenience store clerk who was shot during a store robbery. Woodson, who claimed that his life would have been threatened if he did not join three others in the robbery, stayed in the car as a lookout.

At the time of his trial, state law automatically allowed for the death penalty for a first-degree murder conviction.

Claiming the automatic death sentence violates the Eighth Amendment - which prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments - Woodson appealed his case. Two years later, in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, struck down the law and spared Woodson's life and 120 other inmates.

Seventeen years after the ruling, Woodson was free. He admits adjusting to life outside of prison wasn't easy on him and his wife.

"I thought I was going home as a husband, but I actually went home as a son, because she had to help me readjust," he said.

WRAL News first met James Woodson 11 years ago when he was the kitchen manager at the Raleigh Rescue Mission. These days, he has a job in Raleigh and preaches to inmates at Wake Correctional Center.

He's also watching the latest court case involving the 27 inmates.

The lead plaintiff in the dispute, Bobby Bowden, is one of the inmates whose life was spared by the Supreme Court 1976 decision.

Now it's Bowden's case that might spare others.

"But for the governor not wanting these men released, I would like to know from her, 'Why?'" he said.

Woodson was in a work-release program prior to gaining his freedom in 1993. The concern about some of the 27 inmates is that they will be set free without being properly prepared. That angers and frightens some people.

"That's to be understood," Woodson said. "While I was in (prison), I met other men who are so evil that I said to them, 'They should never let you go. You don't want to change.’"

Since his release, Woodson has led a crime-free life.

"You have to want to change," he said. "Nobody can make you change."

He credits the change to God and to people in the prison system who have supported and believed in him.

"There's a choice in the matter in life itself," he said. "Do you want to live? Do you want to be helpful to another individual because you've been helped?"

"It was a good feeling (when I was released). I, James Tyrone Woodson, don't ever want to be in prison again," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • whatusay Nov 18, 2009

    Mr Woodson could have driven off, left the other criminals, and notified the police. However, he chose to "participate" by waiting and "helping" the killers. He is as guilty as they are and should have paid the ultimate penalty. Rehabilitation should not be his reward when people are "killed" because of his actions.

  • Vietnam Vet Nov 18, 2009

    Accessory to murder, or murder in the commission of another crime. As I've always understood it you can be considered just as guilty as the perpetrator who actually did the killing.

  • NCAries Nov 18, 2009

    Tell how much he enjoys life to the family of his victim!

    Did you read the story??? He was in the car, he didn't have a victim...

  • affirmativediversity Nov 18, 2009

    Look at this another bleeding heart...murderer makes good...story on WRAL!

    Tell how much he enjoys life to the family of his victim!

  • djcgriffin Nov 18, 2009

    It did say he was in the car. Obviously we dont know the whole story. I remember a case in Greensboro where a young man was hanging with the wrong crowd and gave his friend a ride to the store to get some cigarettes. They ended up robbing and shooting someone while he was outside putting gas in his car. Not saying he should get off scott free, just trying to open your eyes to more than one possibility since we dont know the whole story with the facts provided. It's easy to come to a snap judgment, but what if that was your niece, nephew, brother, sister, etc. that happened to be in the car not knowing their passenger's intentions or what was going on inside the store until they pulled the trigger? What if when they get back in the car they hold the gun to his/her head and tell them to drive away? Would the decision be so easy then?

    I would like to hear your thoughts. I know that this story goes against the statistics, I just want people to shy away from snap judgement.

  • jas1022 Nov 18, 2009

    Thanks to all the libs in this country we now keep everyone alive and believe we can rehab them back into society. If you believe in this, then you my friend are a moron.

  • RDUTEC Nov 18, 2009

    OK he was the driver and didn't know they were going to kill anyone. If that is true, the death penalty was a bit extreme. Still it would appear that he didn't do anything to stop them or cooperate with police afterward.

    More than half of "lifers" that for whatever reason are released return to prison. What about the people robbed, hurt or killed by these released people.

    Politically correctness "ISN'T". In todays "9 Chickweed Lane" comic strip, the lady made the comment "Having your thoughts governed by a bounch of university prigs and wannabe dictators at home is ANTI FREEDOM". I couldn't agree more.

  • acp2483 Nov 18, 2009

    Pardon my typo. It's philosophy not philosphy.

  • acp2483 Nov 18, 2009

    "There's a choice in the matter in life itself," he said. "Do you want to live? Do you want to be helpful to another individual because you've been helped?"

    Haha he should have applied that same philosphy on his own life before he shot and killed the store clerk!!! What a jerk. I bet his victim would LOVE to get a second chance at life. Too bad. This man took it and he may receive that opportunity? No way. Leave him where he is. He doesn't want to change either. His statement his as contradictory as his actions. He had a choice whether to go into the store and kill the clerk. He made his bed, he should lie in it.

  • jgriffith3792 Nov 18, 2009

    "But for the governor not wanting these men released, I would like to know from her, 'Why?'" he [Woodson] said."


    I am glad you turned your life around, helping others and feel good about yourself. But, what about your victim(s)? What about their families?

    Murderers should have no rights and be summarily executed as a matter of due process. Only then will there be a decrease in murders. To be released as an indication of "paying their price" to society is a mockery of justice.