WRAL Investigates

More convicted murderers being paroled in N.C.

Posted March 19, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2009 8:12 p.m. EDT

— At a time in her life when many of her peers are enjoying their grandchildren, Paulette White says she can think only about her son.

It was 1968, when Edward Earl Williams stabbed 6-year-old Perry Lynn White 12 times, slit his throat and threw his body under a house.

White says Williams did more than kill her son.

"It gets easier as time goes on, but when somebody kills your child, it kills a part of you," she said.

Williams was convicted Oct. 24, 1968, of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. At the time, state law allowed the possibility of parole.

Now 58, Williams is scheduled to be released from prison Monday.

"I could see it if it was a lesser crime, but for a murderer?" said White, who has been fighting Williams' parole for years. She was notified by letter last month that Williams had been granted parole.

Since 2005, more and more families have found themselves in the same situation.

That year, the number of people paroled after serving time for first-degree murder more than tripled from the average of the previous 10 years, rising from 5.7 to 21.

In 2007, the number increased to its highest, 27. And in 2008, 24 people convicted of first-degree murder were granted parole.

Eric Evenson, a former Durham prosecutor, believes state lawmakers are using parole as a way to deal with prison overcrowding.

He has gone before the North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission several times, trying to keep people he prosecuted in prison.

"It appears that – from what we've understood from the parole commission – that they are being told to re-examine many of these cases," Evenson said.

Most recently, he asked the commission to deny parole for Barbara Stager, a Durham woman convicted nearly 20 years ago in her husband's fatal shooting. The commission is expected to decide on her case in May.

"The parole commission is under pressure from the North Carolina Legislature to parole people like this," Evenson said. "And it's time that we, I think, re-examine what is happening in our court system and our prison system."

As a general rule, the parole commission, a panel of three appointed by the governor, does not talk to the media. It declined to answer questions from WRAL News about why more convicted murderers have been paroled in recent years.

One administrator, however, did say that each case is reviewed on an individual basis and not by crime category.

"When you look at a murder, you have to look at it case by case," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, who has worked with parole issues for years, co-chairing the Senate Appropriations on Justice and Public Safety Committee.

A state Senate amendment passed in 2005 requires the state to enroll at least 20 percent of eligible inmates in a pre-release program called the Mutual Agreement Parole Program. It guarantees an offender will get out on parole if he or she satisfactorily completes the program.

"What we hope is the person who is coming out of prison is not the same person who went into prison," Kinnaird said.

The primary reason for the program is to rehabilitate offenders, Kinnaird says, but it does also helps control the prison population. But she says lawmakers are not encouraging the parole commission to let out more murderers, however.

The Department of Correction, which is separate from the parole commission, believes the increase in murderers being paroled is because the number of eligible offenders is dwindling.

Only people serving life sentences who committed crimes before 1994 qualify for parole – in that year, the state enacted structured sentencing that no longer allows parole for offenders serving life in prison, regardless of the crime.

"That's the pool of people that the parole commissioner has to work with," Keith Acree, DOC's director of public affairs, said. "It's by and large a pool of murderers and rapists that they are considering for parole, so the numbers are going to result in mostly those types of people being paroled."

White says she doesn't care about any of those arguments. She's experiencing a fear she hasn't felt in more than 40 years.

"I think he's going to do it (kill) again," she said. "I think he's going to go and do it again."

All she can do now is pray that doesn't happen, she says.