Push to keep inmates behind bars

October 21, 2009 4:41:27 AM PDT
There has been an outpouring of reaction since it was announced that several inmates sentenced to life in prison will be released in North Carolina. A woman whose mother was killed by a man who's getting out of prison is calling a state supreme court decision "an absolute nightmare."

Her mother was killed by Bobby Bowden - the man who set the whole controversy in motion when he successfully challenged a law defining a life sentence as 80 years.

He and 19 other inmates are scheduled to be released next week. But there's an effort on both the state and federal level to keep them behind bars.

The state supreme court has ruled that a 1980s law should be interpreted to mean life sentences actually meant a prison term of 80 years.

Click here to read more about the ruling

The old technicality in state law has caught a lot of people by surprise. Now, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina is stepping in to try to keep some of the criminals from walking free.

"It's outrageous. They seem to have been released without much notice," U.S. Attorney George Holding said.

Officials say the inmates' 80 year terms are done, because of sentence reductions and time shaved off for good behavior.

"The government seems to have been caught off guard," Senate Minority Leader Sen. Phil Berger said. "I think that's the big thing that the government seems to have been caught off guard."

State prosecutors say there's little they can do, and Holding also admits his options are very narrow, but he's looking.

"The state can prosecute you for a crime, and the federal government can come in and prosecute you for the exact same crime," he said. "There's no double jeopardy there."

Holding could prosecute someone already in prison if a convict's crime was also a federal offense, like murder at a national park or on military base.

"So it is a long shot that we would be able to prosecute any of these folks, but we're going to look at it," he said.

Holding says he has two prosecutors sifting through the cases of the 20 convicts.

He says they have not found anything yet that they can prosecute in federal court and their investigation should not take much time.

However, the convicts have been in prison so long and the crimes are so old that even if the U.S. Attorney finds a federal crime there is also statute of limitations. Only murder and some sex crimes have no statutes of limitations.

Holding says that most likely his best chance may be finding a convict who is also a sex offender who then fails to register once released.

"It is a federal crime to not register as a sex offender," he said.

But even with the U.S. Attorney on the case, most if not all of the convicts will still go free.

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