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Appeals court halts release of two 'life' inmates

Posted December 14, 2009

— The state Court of Appeals on Monday afternoon halted the release of two inmates sentenced to life in prison, hours after a Superior Court judge ordered their release.

Judge Ripley Rand ruled Monday morning in the cases of convicted murderers Alford Jones and Faye Brown. Both were sentenced in the 1970s under an old law that defined a life sentence as 80 years.

Gov. Beverly Perdue Perdue livid over inmate-release order

Attorneys for both inmates argued last week that the old law, combined with good-behavior credits meant to reduce sentences, mean their clients' prison terms are complete.

Correction officials said state law prohibits felons serving life prison sentences from receiving good behavior credits for purposes of unconditional release from prison. The credits were awarded only for purposes of earning a more favorable custody grade, for becoming eligible for parole or for a commutation of a sentence by the governor.

Rand ruled the Department of Correction wrongly interpreted its regulation on the sentence-reduction credits. His order would have released the two inmates at 5 p.m., but the appeals court issued temporary stays of the decisions by 4 p.m.

The Court of Appeals will now review Rand's orders, but there's no timetable for when the court will decide the matter.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said Monday she was "furious" over Rand's rulings.

"This is not how government and the courts are supposed to work for the people of North Carolina," Perdue said. "This is wrong. I've been in politics a long time, and I have never been this disgusted with the system in my life."

Brown, 56, was convicted 34 years ago in Martin County of murder and sentenced to death after she and two acquaintances robbed a bank and one of the men shot Trooper Guy Thomas Davis Jr. of the state Highway Patrol. Her sentence was eventually commuted to a life sentence.

Jones was convicted of murder in Lenoir County 34 years ago for the shooting death of William B. Turner Sr. Likewise, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Inmates Alford Jones and Faye Brown Inmates remain in jail after release blocked

Perdue complained that no one has spoken for Jones' and Brown's victims. She was especially upset that someone involved in killing a state trooper could be released.

Col. Randy Glover, commander of the state Highway Patrol, said releasing Brown without supervision amounts to a lack of respect for law enforcement.

"Why is it that law enforcement is so expendable? I do not understand that," Glover said. "We have families. We're part of communities like everyone else."

Larry Overby, a retired captain of the state Highway Patrol who worked with Trooper Davis, said he is strongly opposed to Brown's release.

“I believe a life sentence should be a life sentence,” Overby said Monday.

Thomas Maher, executive director of the state Office of Indigent Defense Services, said Perdue and other state officials shouldn't tamper with Rand's rulings.

"Judge Rand simply ruled that these inmates were entitled to be treated the same as any other inmate with an 80-year sentence," Maher said in a statement. "The decision to define a life sentence as 80 years was rightly a political decision made by elected representatives. The decision to treat all inmates equally under the law is not a political decision, but rather a judicial decision that should be respected by our elected representatives."

Brown and Jones are two of 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, who sued for his release.

The potential releases sparked outrage among many, including the governor, partly because all but one of the inmates would be free without any post-release supervision.

“I've spoken with many of those who were harmed by the 125 murderers and rapists, ” Tom Bennett, executive director of the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network, said. "I can assure you that many of their victims are frightened, angry and bitter."

Perdue vowed to block the releases and argued prison officials improperly applied some of the credits.

Shortly before the inmates' expected release, the Department of Correction adjusted their release dates, setting the earliest date for unconditional release in 2054.

237 Comments

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  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Dec 16, 10:11 a.m.

    "That would be true but you missed the origonal sentence DEATH then comutted to LIFE. It seems to me they did not serve their sentence YOU?"

    It would seem to me that everything was done in a LEGAL manner. If someone commuted a death sentence to life, then your problem is with THAT action, not them serving their legal sentence, less time off for good behavior.

    Look, I don't want them out. I want them to die and rot in prison. I just can't believe how many people want our government to act OUTSIDE their legal limits to do something they have no authority to do.

  • LambeauSouth Dec 15, 4:49 p.m.

    These people served their sentences BY LAW, and should be released. Period.

    That would be true but you missed the origonal sentence DEATH
    then comutted to LIFE. It seems to me they did not serve their sentence YOU?

  • hollylama Dec 15, 3:48 p.m.

    Which is costing taxpayers more...the complaint and appeals processes or keeping these people in prison for the rest of their sentences? Go with which ever one is cheaper..

  • Sessy V--V Dec 15, 3:40 p.m.

    wonder what she thinks of the preacher that just got out for serving 5 yrs for killing his wife

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Dec 15, 3:25 p.m.

    "Those inmates get out of prison but the people they killed are still dead. It is time to Perdue to step up and show them exactly who is the boss. An eye for an eye, they should stay in there just like if it happened yesterday."

    There is confusion on this issue, and I think I've figured out what it is: There are TWO issues in play here. The first is what sentence should these people receive when convicted? The second is have they legally satisfied their sentences.

    We can probably ALL agree that we don't want people like this released back into society. But have they legally served their sentences? I mean, if someone gets four years for committing murder, and we release them after four years, can we really be mad that they didn't serve their sentences? No. What we are mad about is that they only got four years. Or that our system allows them to reduce their sentences for good behavior.

    These people served their sentences BY LAW, and should be released. Period.

  • Eduardo1 Dec 15, 1:47 p.m.

    Good going Judges. I hope that the sentence for the mother who beat & boiled her son would get reviewed by them. Overturn her sentence, after chemical castration, sentence her to life in prison. Her charges could have included attempted murder, battery, and others

  • GetRight Dec 15, 1:41 p.m.

    I understand those arguing an objective argument that the law is the law whether you agree with it or not. However, this is clearly a case of laws being misapplied and misinterpreted in ways they were clearly never intended. If 1st degree murderers can argue for their release based on perceived loopholes then surely they can be argued against in a similar fashion. That's what is going on here.

    This isn't about a governor trying to interpret the law. Bev Purdue is being a public voice against what most Americans would consider a travesty of justice and legal wrangling by some slick defense attorneys. I commend the Governor for this, even though I did not vote for her.

  • littleriver69 Dec 15, 1:38 p.m.

    Another reason NC is the laughable to the rest of the country. We have the "back woods" laws that make no sense, and yet we continue with them. Maybe if we voted out the "back woods" law makers we would be better off.

  • petarp2 Dec 15, 1:31 p.m.

    Journey What is fair about people sentenced to life in prison getting out before they die in prison. The governor is trying to get a law changed that is unfair. Think of the victims families. How would you feel if someone in your family was murdered and the murderer or accessory (after being sentenced to life) was going to be let out of prison because they have credit for good behavior. The law is wrong and that is what the governor is saying. And yes it is her duty to do what is best for the state of NC. How much of state money was spent for these two prisoners to appeal. They sure didn't pay for it out of their pocket. Somebody had to pay the lawyers and court cost. Who could it have been? Can you say NC TAXPAYERS?

  • Tax Man Dec 15, 12:18 p.m.

    Journey - she not only was riding in the vehicle but was armed with a handgun - she was not there as a mere passenger, she was a very active part of the crime and would have used her gun had she needed to. She may not deserve death but she sure deserves life without parole. She actively participated in the execution of a law enforcement officer doing his job - she admitted guilt and her own confession got her convicted. She needs to stay in prison until the day she dies.

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