Local News

Inmates wait after governor blocks release order

Posted October 29, 2009
Updated November 19, 2009

— James Pone planned to attend church with his mother this Sunday and start a new life with his girlfriend.

The 48-year-old convicted murderer has spent 30 years in prison for fatally shooting a Bladen County cab driver in 1978.

He was expecting to be released in March after successfully completing a pre-release program but learned earlier this month that he would walk out of prison sooner than expected.

"I know that everyone will not agree with me getting out. I know that, but I ask that they give me a chance," Pone said last week. "I can't speak for other people, but for myself I'm not going to hurt anybody ever again." (Hear more from Pone.)

Now, he will have to wait.

Pone is one of 27 inmates in North Carolina who were scheduled to be released Thursday due to a ruling on a decades-old law that appeared to define life sentences as only 80 years long.

With credits for good behavior, attorneys for another inmate argued that sentences under the law could be as short as 40 years. The state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court agreed, and the state Department of Correction identified 26 men and one woman who qualified for release.

Gov. Beverly Perdue balked.

She has ordered DOC officials not to release Pone or any of the other inmates, and DOC spokesman Keith Acree said this week there are no immediate plans to do so.

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

Perdue has vowed to fight the release of the inmates. Defense attorney Duncan McMillan disagrees with her 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 that her legal counsel believes the DOC never had the authority to change the rule.

But McMillan said 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.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina agrees.

"Our governor and attorney general have sworn an oath to uphold the laws as they were actually written at the time they were applied, not as they wish they were written," ALU-NC President Carlos Mahoney said in a statement Thursday.

"We remind them of their oath and call upon them to respect the rule of the law rather than sacrifice the Constitution for political expediency."

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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  • MajorLeagueinfidel Oct 30, 2009

    So say a Judge convicts someone for an assault/murder charge and sends them to Jail...the Governor at that time disagrees with the decision and orders the DOC to release this person....Would that be Okay?

    The Governor's ex-business partner is charged with fraud and sentenced...the Governor decides to block that sentence and have the person released...Would that be Okay?

    You are accused of a crime and the Judge finds you not guilty, your Governor disagrees with the Judge and sends you to Jail...
    Would that be Okay?

  • OSX Oct 29, 2009

    Watch all of these clowns sue the state for millions of dollars. I want to laugh but it isn't funny because they will probably win.

  • affirmativediversity Oct 29, 2009

    So let me get this straight...

    The law at the time of his/their crime was "Life" equals "80 Years with "NO Good Time Credits"...hmmmmm,

    Then the law stated "Life" equals "Life" again with "NO Good Time Credits"....

    Then someone (no one has really said who or when or why or by what authority...but for the sake of argument lets pretend it was some one with authorit)...someone said, "Life" should mean the "80 Years" but with "One Good Day for Every Day Served" (by the way is a Good Day earned by having a Good Day or do you get them on Bad Days too)...again, I digress...80 - good time of 40 years = 40 years....

    Hmmmm, has any of these prisoners Max'd out their 40 years yet in order to earn the 40 years good time?

    How about why does the law at the time they are sentence only apply if means less time but if the law changed that means less time that counts too? Which is it...the law when they were convicted or the law now or the law when most convenient for them?


  • jdixon2 Oct 29, 2009

    In a civics class in High School (when life was equal to 80 years), that people convicted and sentenced to life could get out before they spent 80 years in prison. However, they could give a person life and a day. They would have to serve their life sentence first, then the day (no loop holes).

    The courts have spoken. They should be freed. If the governor wanted them to stay, why hasn't she been in court fighting it. A Preliminary injunction maybe? If the inmates aren't released, the court should hold her in contempt. Not just a verbal, Gov, you're in contempt of court, but, maybe some time in a jail cell herself.

  • Living and Loving in NC Oct 29, 2009

    God Bless The Govener! Nice to see an elected official looking out for the interests of free citizens!

  • Tarheelfan13 Oct 29, 2009

    The bottom line boils down to the fact that the only leverage the state has is on the credits issue. The inmates have "ex post facto" in their favor so the NC General Assembly is utterly powerless to pass a law keeping these inmates in prison. The reason being is that "ex post facto" is forbidden in the United States Constitution. I'm not happy about the inmates being released but it is basically inevitable now. I said it in another previous thread but this is why our lawmakers need to pay attention to detail in the verbage of legislation. And it would not surprise me if a federal court ends up ordering the inmates released.

  • roe Oct 29, 2009

    You all kill me if you were so concerned about these people being released then you should have read the law when it was implemented now that time has approached for their release you all want to get on the bandwagon to keep them locked away. Well Gov Perdue you should have been well aware of these different laws when you took the oath. You are busy closing different prison facilities throughout NC. You should have been on top of these laws before you thought about closing these prisons. If these people have done their time you need to release them......Keeping them locked up will not improve your rating with the voting people.......

  • ZIPPER RECURVE Oct 29, 2009

    All of you that say it's OK to let them out early. Please sign up to take one or two reformed killers to live with you. The rest of us are more than quite happy with their location now at the cross bar hotel.

  • lorivalentine1 Oct 29, 2009

    Ohh poor poor man.. who does not get to go to church this weekend. You should have thought of that before you killed some one. Life means life..

  • NCAries Oct 29, 2009

    Crime doesn't pay. Stay in prison!

    Yes it does...lawyers, doctors, funeral homes, politicians, CEOs, senators, ex-governors, ex-presidents...the list goes on and on...