State News

N.C. lifers coping with decision to delay freedom

Posted October 23, 2009
Updated November 19, 2009

— When prisoner Cecil Morrison heard that North Carolina's governor would block his release from a life sentence after nearly 32 years behind bars, he said he felt so sick he had to lie down on his bunk and ask God for help.

"When I heard the news yesterday, I got a little weak in the stomach, a little dizzy, a little tears," 49-year-old Morrison told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the Randolph Correctional Center in Asheboro. Just last week, prison officials told Morrison he would unexpectedly be set free.

"I was looking forward to the day of my release," he said.

The Department of Correction said it has been closely monitoring Morrison and 19 other inmates since Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday she would halt their releases.

"We're obviously concerned about the emotional ride these inmates have been on for the past week, as well as the victims," said department spokesman Keith Acree. "We're watching that group very carefully to make sure there's no rash behavior."

Acree said mental health staff and chaplains were available for the 20.

Perdue said Thursday that she was "appalled" by the North Carolina Supreme Court siding with the Court of Appeals decision that officials believed would lead to the release of convicted killer Bobby Bowden early from his life sentence.

Bowden argued that a state law from the 1970s defined a life sentence as 80 years. The good behavior credit system in the 1980s allowed some like Bowden to get day-for-a-day credits for good behavior.

Twenty inmates, including Morrison, qualified for release under this ruling. More were to follow in later months.

The governor argued that the General Assembly never intended to give the Department of Correction that kind of authority.

"Until these new legal issues have been resolved by the courts, Mr. Bowden and the other violent offenders will not be released," Perdue said.

Morrison still believes he'll be a free man soon, even though Acree said the releases are on hold indefinitely.

"I'm still holding on to my faith and I believe that right now this is just a little red herring," Morrison said, adding he has no animosity toward the governor and he knows she's just doing what outraged victims and the general public demand.

Morrison was convicted of second-degree rape in 1977 for abducting a girl at knifepoint, leading her into a wooded area, sexually assaulting and robbing her.

"At that point, I didn't really feel for anyone but myself," Morrison said. "I'm not who I was in 1976 when I was locked up. I'm not that 17-year-old child any more."

Morrison says he's been changed by the grace of God, but the Department of Correction may have had a hand in it as well. Morrison credits prison with transforming him from an illiterate teenager into a man with a GED who's a few credits shy of a degree in social work.

James Lewis, the assistant superintendent at Davidson Correctional Center, said facility inmate Manley Porter was disheartened by the state's announcement, as well.

"He was disappointed as any of us would be," Lewis said. "Now he's just waiting to see what happens. He knows that things can go up and down."

Porter, 61, said in an interview earlier this week that he was excited to return to the outside world, planning on eating his first meal at International House of Pancakes and continuing his involvement at a local church where he plays piano on day trips outside of prison with a mentor.

Regardless of the state high court ruling on sentence length, Porter is scheduled to be paroled in June of next year. Porter was convicted of raping a woman during an 1976 robbery.

Officials say most of the other inmates will likely join Porter soon.

"I think what will ultimately happen is that each of these people will spend several years more but not life," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. Stam, who sent a memo to the state Attorney General arguing against the ruling, said the inmates would probably be granted some of their good behavior credits, but not all.

Victims of the convicted murderers and rapists realize their fight isn't over. Department of Correction employees who notified victims that the inmates would not be released Thursday said they were very pleased but also realized "this isn't a permanent decision," said Acree.

Morrison said that although he isn't "the monster they described in the newspapers" he feels sympathy for his victim, who's riding the same roller coaster.

"I know she's going through pure hell right now too," Morrison said.

34 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • dadgumit Oct 23, 2009

    Life in prison to me it means what it says LIFE you leave prison after you die . You go out the gate toes up. Lf a member of my family was Raped or Murdered I would like to see them get out . Then they would pay for what they had done !! There is no reason to Rape someone to easy to do do other free things !! I lie the old days jury says guilty the Judge said to be hung by the neck until dead !! Very simple no argument !! Yes I work in a prison every day!!

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Oct 23, 2009

    Bev Purdue is taking the easy public-relations politically-correct route. A courageous governor would obey the law despite all the ignorant citizens who can't quite grasp that the law is the law, both when you like it and when you don't.

  • jimmycrackcorn Oct 23, 2009

    "I think jimmycrackcorn needs some medicine to calm down..run out of Ridlin today?"

    Oh please. I didn't write what I really want to say because of the censor.

    Personally, I would thank the heavens if my family member was a victim and they were going to release the prisoner that did it.

    I had some maniac try to carjack me back in the early 90's we caught him and they let him go on 15 felonies due to his legs being cut off while he was on parole. He's on facebook now...bahahaha...I might add him as a friend.

  • personality Oct 23, 2009

    The closing of facilities that house inmates should be something most people in NC will be Happy to see. The inmates at these facilities will be moved to other ones and who knows where people who are committed to Correctional Facilities might go as more people are sentenced.

    If you do not want to pay for new facilities and you want to close other ones.....where can they go except to be released early?

    Where will we go next? Who knows?

  • working for deadbeats Oct 23, 2009

    I threw up a little after reading this. Coping??? Bwaahhaahaa!!

    I wonder how the victims and their families are coping these days? Sit in there and rot!!!! This is as G rated or AKA as Golo rated as I could make it.

  • Dragons_lady Oct 23, 2009

    if my husband got as many infractions as these inmates did..he would lose his good behaviour time....so..why can't these inmates lose theirs that is allowing them to get out now?????? or is it once again a major difference between state and federal>>>>>

  • affirmativediversity Oct 23, 2009

    The prisoners filed a laws arguing their sentence had been unfairly changed from "Life, meaning 80 years" to "Life, meaning without the possibility of parole".
    They based their argument on sound fact of the Law at the time of their sentence...This the COURT CORRECTLY RULED in their favor...Life for the should mean 80 Years.
    BUT,
    The Court went TOO FAR when it "calculated good time" within the decision.
    "Time Off for Good Behavior" is a NOT PART OF ANY SENTENCE/JUDGEMENT it is a WHOLELY ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESS seperate and apart from the Judicial System.

    If the Supreme Court Ruling is allowed to stand then ALL Judges must define within ALL sentences the inmates "time of for good behavior" and ABSENT that provision within the Judgement I'd argue THE INMATES GETS NONE!

    The NC Supreme Court can't have it both ways.

    Oh and the LAW has no provision for "JUDGES" to make provisions for "Good Time Off"...hmmmmmmm!

  • HeBlessesMe Oct 23, 2009

    I read this story, and while the crimes were unfortunate, most of them are due to be released soon whether it is next week or next year. I understand that the crimes were heinous and I have a very young son, but I also have family members who served time for whatever reason. They were set to serve a lot of federal time, but due to the good behavior and time credits, they were released early and have stayed away from the life of crime. Men and women who rape and sexually abuse children today do not generally get life sentences. Do I believe that those who murder should be set free? No. Especially since some of these criminals only know crime. But then again, we do not know, they may have also shown remorse since their crime and have changed their lives.

    I understand that their victims did not get a chance, but as a society, we are to uphold the law.......on both sides of the coin.

  • Tax Man Oct 23, 2009

    And, I hope they all feel sick (the felons) about this - they should! And they should feel this way for the rest of their lives!

  • Tax Man Oct 23, 2009

    Hey, they should not give any of these folks credit for serving "good time" - that is what is expected of them. If they get infractions or violations it should add time to their regular sentence. Good time is what they should be doing anyway - for at least 80 years! Letting them have "good time" reductions in their life sentence is like paying your employees overtime for just showing up for work! Keep them in until they hit that 80 year mark. Thanks Bev, I do not agree with you most of the time but I sure do on this one!

More...