RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Supreme Court on Friday blocked a judge's order to release two convicted killers from prison.
Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand on Monday ordered that Alford Jones and Faye Brown be released, and the state Court of Appeals on Thursday lifted a temporary stay of his order, clearing the way for their release.
The state Attorney General's Office appealed to the Supreme Court for another stay, and the court decided shortly before 4 p.m. Friday to delay the inmates' release until justices had time to review the arguments made in the case and determine whether they warrant a full hearing.
Jones and Brown were scheduled to be released at 5 p.m. if the Supreme Court didn't act.
They are among several dozen inmates serving life sentences under a 1974 law that defined a life sentence as 80 years. Attorneys for the inmates have argued that the old law, combined with good-behavior credits, means their clients' prison terms are complete.
State Department of Correction officials have maintained that 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, state officials say.
Rand ruled that the DOC officials wrongly interpreted the regulation on the sentence-reduction credits and never limited how those credits could be used.
The nephew of state Highway Patrol Trooper Guy Thomas Davis Jr., who was killed in 1975 as Brown and two men were making their getaway after a bank robbery in Martin County, said his family is outraged the courts are even considering releasing her and other inmates.
"I kind of feel like they're getting a third chance, and my uncle didn't get a third chance," Scott Williamson said. "It really doesn't matter how you do the math. There is no way you could do enough good while you're in prison in just a few years to knock 50 years off an 80-year sentence. It just doesn't add up."
Meanwhile, another Superior Court judge reached an opposite conclusion Friday in the case of another inmate sentenced under the 1974 law to life in prison.
Judge Gentry Caudill ruled in Cleveland County that "no Secretary of Correction has ever directed good-behavior credits to be applied to calculate an unconditional release date for a life sentence." Because of that, the judge denied claims by Wilbur William Folston that he should be released.
Gov. Beverly Perdue has vowed to fight the inmate releases, saying they should be handled through the state parole board and be subject to post-release supervision.
Her spokeswoman, Chrissy Pearson, said late Friday that Perdue supports Caudill's reading of the law and the facts of Folston's case and is pleased the Supreme Court stopped the release of Jones and Brown.
"Allowing the stay to stand is the most appropriate step as the state seeks a conclusive answer on how to make sure inmates are not released without a proper and thorough review by the parole commission," Pearson said in a statement. "The bottom line remains: Inmates sentenced to life should not be allowed to walk out the prison door without a parole review and appropriate post-release supervision."
The Supreme Court in October declined to hear an appeal of the Court of Appeals ruling that created the controversy. Double-murderer Bobby Bowden claimed he should be released under the 1974 law, and the appellate judges agreed with him. The case has been sent back to Cumberland County for review.