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Seven more lifers could be released under court ruling

Posted October 24, 2009
Updated November 19, 2009

— The North Carolina Department of Correction announced Saturday that it has identified seven more inmates serving life sentences who could be affected by an appellate ruling recently upheld by the state Supreme Court.

That brings to 27 the total on inmates who could be released.

Seven more inmates could be freed Seven more inmates could be freed

The state Court of Appeals found that a 1970s state law defined a life sentence as 80 years and that, when good-behavior credits were included, some inmates had completed their sentence. The law was changed a few years later.

The seven inmates identified Saturday were convicted of either murder or rape. Three were originally sentenced to death – Joseph Seaborn, 55, Leroy Richardson, 56, and Allen R. Roberts, 58.

Seaborn was convicted in the 1975 slaying of state Trooper Guy Davis. Seaborn was fleeing after robbing a bank in Williamston.

Roberts attacked and raped a woman as she left work in Durham County in 1974, according to DOC records.

Richardson stabbed Joseph Maxwell Cook in the neck and attacked three others while robbing a store in Scotland County in 1974. Cook died of his injuries.

DOC records identified the other four inmates and their crimes: Barry Holcomb, 57, shot his father in the head in Yadkin County in 1974. Tommy L. Yancey, 55, broke into a woman's house in Alamance County and robbed and raped her in 1976. Benny R. Herndon, 52, and another man broke into a Mecklenburg woman's house and raped and robbed her in 1976. Victor Foust, 63, killed Donald Mayo during a robbery in Wilson County in 1975.

The potential releases have upset some people, partially because most of the inmates would be freed without any post-release supervision.

“The Highway Patrol was very disappointed in the recent state Supreme Court’s ruling. We’re hoping that there will be some type of resolution to this that will stay (and prevent) those individuals from getting released,” Sgt. Jeff Gordon, with the state Highway Patrol, said.

Gov. Bev Perdue has vowed to fight the release of the inmates. Defense attorney Duncan McMillan disagrees with Perdue's stance.

“The law as written should be implemented. I wasn't surprised at the governor's stance. I don't think she will prevail in any attempt to keep these folks in prison,” McMillan said.

Perdue has taken issue with the good-behavior credits.

In 1981, the Legislature passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which offered inmates the chance to shorten their sentences by crediting them with a day for each day of good behavior. It only applied to crimes committed in 1981 or later. Those serving life sentences did not qualify.

Then, in 1983, then-DOC Secretary James Woodward expanded the "day-for-a-day" rule to apply to those convicted before 1981, including those serving life terms.

Perdue said in a statement Thursday that her legal counsel believes the DOC never had the authority to change the rule. But McMillan says he thinks the inmates will be released.

“There comes a point in time when a person is going to simply max out the sentence imposed. When the person maxes out the sentence, he is bound by the law to be released. And I don't see that there is a way around it,” McMillan said.

DOC spokesman Keith Acree said there are no immediate plans to release any of the inmates.

The DOC is working to notify victims of these offenders. Victims who haven't yet been contacted by DOC can call the Office of Victim Services at 1-866-719-0108.

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  • caholz Oct 26, 4:28 p.m.

    Not that the criminals involved in this travesty necessarily commited capital offences, but I'm just going to point out that this is why I strongly support the death penalty. You always hear the argument that society and individual victims can receive sufficient justice and protection via life sentencing. But when this kind of thing happens, it sends a message to all crime victims that they can't trust the system to give them the peace they need.

  • rroadrunner99 Oct 26, 2:05 p.m.

    What's going to happen when they have to go back and get people that's been released for year's when they conclude that the DOC had no authority to change the day for a day rule? There will be hundred's of people they will have to put back in prison then, or the state will have hundred's of lawsuit's from those 27 prisoner's that are about to be released. I think the legislature messed up and now it's back haunting them! Now if the Gov. of the State of N.C. does not follow the law's of the state and ruling's of the court's, then why does the people of the state have to? If she want's to defy the ruling...Then lock her up in a regular jail cell in Wake County jail not some country club jail. We might not like the law's but we have to follow them and I think it should apply to the Gov. first and foremost!