Dozens of violent inmates may be released

October 21, 2009 2:13:13 PM PDT
Inmates sentenced to life in prison are scheduled to be released this month following a controversial decision North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue calls "appalling."The ruling by the state Supreme Court on a loophole in the law essentially gives the inmates a get out of jail free card.

"It's distressing that we've come to this point," NC Democratic Senator Tony Rand told Eyewitness News. "It's an unintended consequence. I don't know how you unscramble the egg. It's an unfortunate event and one we should learn from."

He added that from a legislative standpoint, there's nothing that can be done to reverse this situation.

A total of 20 inmates are affected. They include murderers and rapists.

Click here for information on the inmates, pictures, and links to their Department of Corrections' web pages (.pdf)

The 19 men and one woman are currently behind bars, and the Governor's office says they should stay there.

"Of those 20, they're all violent offenders, some of the most heinous crimes that you've ever heard of," explained Chrissy Pearson, Gov. Beverly Perdue's spokesperson. "The Governor's very concerned that these folks are being released."

One of the inmates, Stephen Wilson, was convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl. Another inmate, Faye Brown, was found guilty of murdering a state trooper.

The criminals were convicted in the 1970s and most were sentenced to life.

Under a laws passed in 1974, a life sentence was not defined as "until the prisoner died," but rather as 80 years.

Convicted murder Bobby Bowden argued that the wording of that law, coupled with time credit he got for good behavior, means he has completed his life sentence while he is alive.

Last year, a court of appeals agreed with him. Last week, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Click here to read the ruling.

"This is a disaster," victims' advocate Tom Bennett said. "This is an outrage."

Bennett leads the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network.

"These are not Boy Scouts," Bennett said. "These are very potentially dangerous people. They are a threat not only to the people they've already hurt, but they could be a threat to anyone in North Carolina."

Gov. Perdue and others are hoping somehow the inmates will be kept behind bars.

"She certainly has put in a plea to the court to reconsider that they reconsider their decision on this and reconsider the full implications of this and letting these folks out," Pearson said.

The 20 inmates could be released by October 29. The Governor's office said dozens more could be released over the next several years.

It is unclear what, if anything, can be done. The Governor has asked the Attorney General to see if there are any options.

An AG's Office spokeswoman told ABC11, "The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled unanimously, and they have the final say."

On Saturday, The North Carolina State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, announced they are joined Governor Perdue and various victims' advocacy groups that are expressing their shock over a N.C. Supreme Court ruling.

One of the 20 inmates murdered a law enforcement officer in 1975.

The State Lodge, which represents over 6,000 active and retired law enforcement officers, is the largest law enforcement association in North Carolina.

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