GOLDSBORO, N.C. — The chief of North Carolina's prison system testified Wednesday that he never ordered the release of inmates who were covered by a 1974 law that put an 80-year limit on a life sentence.
Alvin Keller, the state's secretary of correction, said that he thought there was a possibility that a group of inmates sentenced under a 1970s law might be released after state courts agreed that the sentences would not last a person's entire life. But he contended that he never said they would be released.
"I never ordered the release of anybody," Keller said.
An attorney for inmate Alford Jones tried to show that state officials believed that about two dozen prisoners serving life sentences would be released because of sentence-reduction credits.
Gov. Bev Perdue initially said that the state was being "forced" to release the prisoners, and she released a list of inmates who knocked enough time off their sentences to earn immediate freedom. Correction officials, meanwhile, scrambled to find community connections and identify places for the prisoners to live.
The state now argues that the inmates should have never received credits to reduce their sentences.
Jones, a convicted murderer, appeared in the Wayne County courtroom Wednesday in just one of what could become a series of legal battles spanning the state.
His attorney argued that Jones should have been released four years ago under the 80-year limit.
Another inmate, William Folston, went before a judge in Shelby last week. A third, Faye Brown, is scheduled to appear in a Raleigh court on Friday.
Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand did not rule on Jones' case Wednesday, saying he would also be hearing Brown's case on Friday. A decision won't come until after that hearing, he said.