RALEIGH, N.C. — A third North Carolina inmate is petitioning the courts to be set free from a "life" sentence defined as only 80 years long.
The case of convicted murderer Faye Brown went before a Wake County judge on Friday morning, with her attorneys arguing her sentence expired in February and that she has been "unlawfully detained" since then.
Brown is among more than two dozen inmates – mostly convicted murderers and sex offenders – who were prepared for release in October after state courts ruled in favor of double-murderer Bobby Bowden. He contended that a 1970s law defined a life sentence as 80 years and sued for his release.
The 1981 Fair Sentencing Act included a retroactive provision that essentially cut all of those sentences in half, and Bowden and his attorneys argued that good behavior and other credits have shortened the sentences to the point that they are now complete.
The potential releases sparked outrage among many, including Gov. Beverly Perdue, who has blocked the releases, arguing that prison officials improperly applied some of the credits.
The inmates' sentences have since been recalculated, with the earliest release date for unconditional release in 2054.
Two other inmates have gone to court on the matter – William Folston, in Shelby last week, and Alford Jones, in Goldsboro on Wednesday. Decisions have yet to be made in those cases.
"According to the law, the sentence is considered to be 80 years," Brown, 56, testified Friday.
She was convicted 34 years ago of murder and sentenced to death after she and two acquaintances robbed a bank and one of the men shot a state Highway Patrol trooper.
Her sentence was eventually commuted to a life sentence, and she has been on work release since 1989. Most recently, she has worked as a secretary for the past four years at a cosmetology school in Raleigh.
Brown, who is incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, testified that she met with the prison superintendent, Kenneth Royster, and that the two made a plan for her release.
"I didn't tell her absolutely that she was getting out," Royster testified. "I told her a target date of Oct. 29 had been set for possible release."
Attorneys for the state argued that the court should focus on legal arguments, not "atmospherics," such as press releases and public comments, including those from the governor.
Citing state court decisions, Perdue said in October that officials would be "forced" to release the inmates. While Perdue expressed outrage herself, her press release also triggered angst among victims and lawmakers who feared what might happen if the group of convicted murderers and rapists returned to society with no supervision.
But after consulting with legal counsel, Perdue later reversed herself and argued the inmates did not qualify for credits reducing the length of their sentences.
Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand recalled that chaos during a hearing Friday.
"All of a sudden, everybody says, 'No big deal.' Doesn't that look weird?" he said to the state's attorneys.
Rand said Friday he will expedite a decision on the case, as well as Jones' case, which he presided over Wednesday.