Court: No release of inmates serving life

August 27, 2010 3:55:30 PM PDT
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Friday in a court battle that triggered a statewide debate and fired up Governor Beverly Perdue.

Two convicted killers argued their life sentences are finished, and they should be set free. Their cases had the potential to affect dozens of other inmates in similar circumstances.

Lawyers for Faye Brown and Alford Jones based their arguments on a lower court ruling that defined life in prison as 80 years under a law that was passed in the 1970s. It was in effect when Brown and Jones were convicted.

Lawyers said based on good behavior credits, Brown and Jones have served their time and should be released.

But in a ruling issued Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court said that while the North Carolina Department of Corrections keeps track of good behavior credits, it never intended for them to count towards the release of prisoners serving life sentences.

"The Department of Correction has never used good time, gain time, or merit credits in the calculation of unconditional release dates for inmates who received sentences of life imprisonment," reads the ruling.

Click here to read the entire ruling on the NC Supreme Court website (.pdf)

Governor Perdue, who said earlier this year that the inmates should not be released without supervision, said Friday she was happy with the ruling.

"We can all sleep a little sounder tonight knowing that violent prisoners will not be released into our communities without review or supervision," said Perdue in a statement. "I stood up for what I believed was right for North Carolina, and I thank the victims, their families, and law enforcement who stood up with me."

DOC officials also expressed relief Friday.

"The Department takes very seriously its responsibility to calculate sentences correctly and the court's decision today has upheld our ability to do that," said N.C. Department of Correction Secretary Alvin Keller in a statement. "We are grateful to the court for upholding those policies and practices that have well served the state for more than 50 years."

But the battle may not be over.

"We obviously are disappointed in the ruling, and are considering whether there are grounds to take the cases to the federal courts," offered Staples Hughes with the Office of the Appellate Defender. "We know that this litigation has been difficult for the families of the victims in these cases, but we believe that the relevant precedents require a different result."

Jones was originally sentenced to death when he was convicted in Lenoir County in March 1975 for killing William B. Turner Sr., who was shot in the chest during an attempted robbery that previous January. His sentence was later reduced to life.

Brown was sentenced for her role in the 1975 shooting death of a state trooper during a bank robbery.

Last year, corrections officials said two dozen convicts would be released because credits would reduce their sentences to completion, and dozens more could have become eligible in the months and years to come.

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