Raleigh, N.C. — Members of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police are expressing concern over a state Court of Appeals ruling that forces the release of 20 longtime inmates.
The inmates are scheduled to be released Oct. 29 after state courts agreed with one of the inmates, double murderer Bobby Bowden, that a 1970s law defined a life sentence as 80 years. The 1981 Fair Sentencing Act included a retroactive provision essentially cutting all those sentences in half, and good behavior and other credits have shortened the sentences to the point that they are now complete.
“We are outraged,” said Terry Mangum, the president of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police.
Bowden had argued before the Court of Appeals in 2008 that he had accumulated 210 days of good-conduct credit, 753 days of meritorious credit, and 1,537 days of gain-time credit. However, the 60-year-old has also racked up 17 infractions in prison, including two for weapon possession, one for damaging property and several for disobeying orders.
Mangum said Sunday that the inmates should stay locked up, in part, because they have a history of being violent in and out of prison.
“We have to look at the types of crimes that were committed, and these 20 (inmates) are some pretty bad folks,” Mangum said.
Seven of the inmates set for release were once on death row. All but one of them have been convicted of murder or rape, including several who targeted young girls.
The inmates set to be released include: William Baggett, a 60-year-old convicted of a 1976 murder in Sampson County, got a fighting infraction last year – his fifth fighting offense while behind bars. Kenneth Mathis, a 55-year-old who went to prison in 1976 after forcing a woman into the woods and raping her, has had three sex infractions in prison. He was accused in 2005 of assaulting an inmate with the intent to commit a sexual act.
Thomas Maher, executive director of the Office of Indigent Defense, which represents defendants who cannot afford attorneys, said the inmates should be released.
“I was pleased that the courts enforced the law as it was written,” he said.
Maher said according to the law, the inmates have served their time.
“Our courts are fairly conservative, and they unanimously found that the statute said what it meant and meant what it said,” Maher told WRAL News Sunday. “I think it is important that the law be applied fairly, regardless of whether you like the particular result."
Meanwhile, Gov. Beverly Perdue said she is talking with legal counsel to see if there are ways 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 Thursday in a news release. “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.”
Mangum agreed with Perdue and said releasing potentially violent inmates is not in the public's best interest.
“The real losers in this will be all of us, the citizens of North Carolina,” he said.
The Department of Correction is attempting to notify victims of these crimes. Victims who have not been contacted are asked to call the DOC Office of Victim Services at 1-866-719-0108.