State News

N.C. Supreme Court hears 'life' sentences dispute

Posted February 16, 2010

— The North Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments about inmates seeking freedom from their decades-old life sentences.

As family members of murder victims looked on, justices peppered attorneys for two inmates and the state with questions about the intent of the 1974 law, which defined a life sentence as 80 years.

State Supreme Court Justices question intent of 'life' sentence law

Jane Allen, an attorney for inmates Faye Brown and Alford Jones, contended that they have earned sentence-reduction credits to lower the 80-year terms to the point where they've served the entire sentence.

"We are a nation of laws, not arbitrariness, tyranny or whims," Allen said. "No one – not the (Department of Correction), not the Attorney General – can simply choose to treat the law as if it's nothing more than a series of items on the buffet line at the local Golden Corral."

Assistant Attorney General Robert Montgomery said the sentences are still considered "life" terms, and the state doesn't apply such credits to inmates serving life sentences.

"No one believed that this petitioner had an unconditional release date, and all the evidence shows that the (Department of Correction) secretary did not believe that and never awarded these credits," Montgomery said.

A Superior Court judge ruled in December that both Brown and Jones should be released immediately from the life sentences they received in the 1970s. Another judge ruled in a separate suit that a third inmate must remain in jail to serve his life sentence because the state doesn't use behavior credits to cut the length of life sentences.

A Supreme Court decision could affect the cases of dozens of convicts like Brown and Jones who received life sentences between 1974 and 1978.

Ollie Williams, whose mother was killed by another inmate who could be released if the Supreme Court upholds the prisoners' argument, said the feelings of victims' families are getting lost in the shuffle.

"I just feel like they'll do it again," Williams said. "Our family members have lost their lives. I just don't think that it's fair. I don't believe that they 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.

Brown is currently being held at Raleigh Correctional Center for Women. She was sentenced for her role in the shooting death of a state trooper during a bank robbery in 1975.

Jones is currently at New Hanover Correctional Center in Wilmington. He was convicted in the January 1975 shooting of William B. Turner Sr.

73 Comments

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  • Daisygirlforever Feb 16, 7:47 p.m.

    I love holmesap's comment. These criminals need to rot in jail. Good behavior my bottom dollar. What is the criminal recidivism rate these days? Let's just save ourselves (the taxpayers) lots of money and end this insanity.

  • piknowles4 Feb 16, 7:22 p.m.

    Like I said before to all you folks who just throw opinion in here - if you don't like the law petition your congressman and get the law changed. Opinion only works if you work to change what you don't like. And you know what they say about opinions and .....You know the rest! The law is screwed up, work to change it instead of bellyaching about it! We have the power to. Use it!

  • Barrackawack Feb 16, 7:21 p.m.

    They deserve the same chance the patrolman had on his last day ! They have lived their life pretty much taken care of by the taxpayer and watched sports and enjoyed whatever they could get their hands on and had contact with love ones. I bet the patrolman would have loved to have that option along with his family.

  • holmesap Feb 16, 7:05 p.m.

    I think they should bring the old prisons back. No tv, no air condition, no soft beds, ball & chain on the road work ! Let them repair the roads and clean the ditches and save the state some money. I dont believe in parole or plea bargains.

  • delilahk2000 Feb 16, 6:59 p.m.

    HIYADUN, THANK YOU

  • hiyadun Feb 16, 6:38 p.m.

    delilahk2000----you make a good point

  • delilahk2000 Feb 16, 6:17 p.m.

    THIS IS CRAZY, THEY HAVE ONE THEY ARE TRYING THEIR BEST TO KEEP IN PRISON FOR A CRIME HE DID NOT COMMIT AND HAS SERVED 17YRS. THESE THEY DID DO THE CRIME AND CAN'T RELEASE THEM FAST ENOUGH. AM I THE ONLY ONE THAT SEES SOMETHING REALLY WRONG WITH THIS. OUR JUDICIAL SYSTEM IS REALLY MESSED UP. NO WONDER WE HAVE NO MORE FAITH IN THEM.

  • grenlyn1 Feb 16, 5:49 p.m.

    "We are a nation of laws, not arbitrariness, tyranny or whims," Allen said. "No one – not the (Department of Correction), not the Attorney General – can simply choose to treat the law as if it's nothing more than a series of items on the buffet line at the local Golden Corral."

    REALLY Ms. Allen..so let me ask YOU something. Do you honestly believe the life of the officer whom was killed by your client merely as important to his family and the fellow officers who work along side of him as a "Buffet Line at a Local Golden Corral"? His life mean't nothing more to you and the laws he swore to uphold? Please...Ms. Allen....surely you can come up with a better arguement than that!

  • piknowles4 Feb 16, 5:43 p.m.

    If you don't like the law work to have it changed. You can't change the rules in the middle of the game. I don't like criminals released before their time any more than anyone else but the law is the law. I think the Governor has overstepped her bounds in this case. She should have to follow the same procedures as anyone else. No one is above the law.

  • Glomae Feb 16, 5:14 p.m.

    "I just checked on the State Highway Patrol website and read about Patrolman G. T. Davis, Jr., of Martin County, NC, and how he was shot to death in the line of duty after stopping a vehicle whose occupants had just robbed a bank. I'm wondering if this is the same patrolman whose death was contributed to (or caused by) Faye Brown."

    Yes, this was the same patrolman. He stopped the car for running a stoplight - didn't even know they had robbed a bank. He walked up to the car and they shot him with a sawed-off shotgun. He never stood a chance. My father lost a good friend that day. Ms. Brown should not be released! If life meant 80 years, then she should serve 80 years (and that is not enough)!

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