by Laura Barron
The number of inmates serving life sentences who were supposed to be released on Oct. 29 has jumped to 27.
Their names are Joseph Seaborn, Leroy Richardson, Allen Roberts, Barry Holcomb, Tommy Yancey, Benny Herndon and Victor Foust.
According to records, Allen Roberts will be released in Durham where he was convicted of first degree rape in 1977.
The Department of Correction has said it was a possibility more names could be added to the list as they calculated sentences that could qualify inmates for release.
But on Thursday, the state's legal team found a way to delay the release of the now 27 inmates, questioning how those credits were calculated.
The inmates thought their 80 year life sentences were up based on a Court of Appeals ruling that defined 80 years as a life sentence, but that's now up for debate again.
But first, how does 80 years get cut down to 30 something years?
Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree said the biggest factor is a law from the ‘80s called the "Fair Sentencing Act" that gave inmates one day of credit for one day of good behavior.
Those "Good Time Credits" essentially cut sentences in half. That means 80 years becomes 40, and when you take into account "Gain Time Credits" for jobs and education averaging 6 days a month and "Merit Credits" given at the discretion of prison superintendents, you have a sentenced reduced even further.
Now the state's legal team is questioning if the secretary of correction should have applied that good time credit retroactively to the inmates who committed crimes in the ‘70s.
"We're not sure he [the Secretary of Correction] had authority to do that," Governor Bev Perdue's spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said.
Former Governor Jim Hunt, who was in office then, said that was not the intent.
"Nobody intended for that to be done, and we ought to find every legal way we can to prevent that from happening," Hunt said.
But Staples Hughes, the director of the office that defended Bobby Bowden in appeals court said the move was legit. Bowden was the inmate who put the possible inmate release into motion
"Our position is going to be that clearly the secretary of correction back then had the authority to do what he did," Hughes said.
Hughes said families and victims do have a right to be outraged, but the possible release of the inmates has become more than a legal issue.
"What is reprehensible is how their pain and their suffering is being harnessed for media purposes, political purposes," Hughes said.
As the DOC continues to calculate sentences and go through records, Acree has said its possible more names will be added to the list of 27 inmates who could be released.
The next step in this legal debate will be a court date in Cumberland County where it will be decided when inmate Bobby Bowden should be released.
This weekend Acree said the DOC is keeping the inmates who were supposed to be released away from any outside activities like work release.
"It's been stressful for them, it's been emotional for them, we just want to make sure that they're dealing with this the way they need to be dealing with this," Acree said.
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