Justice Served? Man Serving Life Sentence For Stealing TV
Posted November 25, 2003 10:00 a.m. EST
TILLERY, N.C. — Does the punishment fit the crime? That is the underlying question in our legal system. The answer to that question has changed over time.
In 1970, a day laborer named Junior Allen was given a life sentence for a crime he would likely get probation for today.
Some in the legal community believe the case demonstrates a need to bring the past more in line with the present, when you consider that North Carolina's prison population is 30 percent over capacity, with no sign of letting up.
A jury convicted Allen of second-degree burglary for stealing a $140 television set from a home in Johnston County. Judge James Pou Bailey sent Allen to prison for life.
"I don't think I got no justice at all. Not no 33 years for a TV. A black and white TV," Allen said.
After 33 years, Allen still lives a life of prison guards and razor wire, wondering if he might ever make it to the other side.
"I went through the 30s and the 50s and the 60s. I'm in the 60's now," he said.
Prosecutor Mike Beam became Allen's most unlikely ally two years ago, when he worked for the county that put Allen behind bars.
"I've never heard anything like this," Beam said. "In my personal opinion, it's time to let him go, turn the key."
After learning of Allen's case, Beam wrote a letter to the North Carolina Parole Commission and even helped find Allen a lawyer.
"Had Mike Beam not taken an interest in this case, he'd be there the rest of his life," said Rick Rosen, who now represents Allen.
Rosen said the Parole Commission holds the key to Allen's freedom.
"He didn't get a hearing last year. We were not allowed to go to the Parole Commission. We had to submit something in writing," Rosen said.
The Parole Commission responded with the following statement: "Your release at this time would unduly depreciate the seriousness of the crime."
It was the 25th straight year Allen was denied parole.
"It's a lost life," Rosen said. "All we can do is try to get him whatever we can of the years left."
The Parole Commission declined WRAL's interview request. They previously cited Allen's prison infractions and long stay in maximum security for keeping him locked up.
"That's not my life anymore. I don't want to travel that road no more," Allen said.
Now in minimum custody, and 63 years old, Allen said having spent more than half his life doing hard time has tamed him.
"They made a lion out of me when I first came in. [Now] I'm just a lamb," he said. "I just hope this thing comes to an end, because I sure have paid for the crime that I admitted over a thousand times and probably more."
Allen's incarceration has cost North Carolina taxpayers nearly $30,000 a year, or about a $1 million so far. His next parole hearing is in December.
As for the woman who owned the television set, she was in her 80s at the time of the crime and passed away in 1977. Several of her relatives contacted us about this story and said Allen has paid for his crime. They insist the reason he got such a harsh sentence was because he fought with the victim -- a crime for which Allen was never charged.