In a statement sent by her office, Governor Bev Perdue states that the 20 convicted felons "will not be released" until new legal issues have been resolved.
"When I learned that the Supreme Court had issued a ruling that meant offenders serving life in prison would be released after a mere 35 years, I was appalled," said Perdue in the statement.
North Carolina prison officials were double-checking good behavior credits that are enabling 20 of the state's violent offenders to be freed next week. Prisons spokesman Keith Acree said staffers began searching records several days ago, and state lawyers also are looking at ways to keep the 19 men and one woman behind bars.
Since the rules for good behavior changed over the years, the search includes verifying whether those rules were correctly applied each time and whether the computer and paper records were tallied correctly, she said.
The inmates were set to be released next Thursday after Bobby Bowden argued a state law from 1970s defined a life sentence as 80 years. The law was changed a few years later.
It's impossible to say at this point whether a mistake would merely keep one of the 20 behind bars a little longer or mean the person would never be released, Acree said.
"If the lawyers come back with some radical interpretation that's different from the way we've been doing business over the years, then we don't know what will happen," he said.
Gov. Beverly Perdue also said Thursday that "Bowden's case is in the process of being sent back to the trial court to recalculate his sentence. These issues can be resolved by the courts. Until these new legal issues have been resolved by the courts, Mr. Bowden and the other violent offenders will not be released."
Click here to read Gov. Perdue's statement.
Staples Hughes, the state appellate defender whose office represented Bowden, said he would to wait to find out why the governor thinks the credits were applied improperly.
"It's curious that after all these years, suddenly in the wake of all the publicity about this, they decide the credit was improperly given," he said.
Three state Republican leaders wrote Attorney General Roy Cooper and Correction Secretary Alvin Keller, saying they believe the prisons agency should not have applied good-time credits to these 20 prisoners.
"A thorough legal review will show that the department's policy is flat out contrary to the statutes," the letter said.
Carolyn Ashburn of Wadeville, whose father was killed in 1975 by one of the prisoners scheduled for release, said the governor was doing the right thing.
Pam Hurley, whose mother was killed by Bowden, said she thinks the reprieve may be just temporary.
"We are happy, but we are continuing to send letters and e-mails to get our message out. This should have never happened in the first place," she said. "Now that this has been breached, you'd be crazy to relax and think, 'Oh, well now it's all over.' It's not over. We know it's not over."
Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand made this statement today:
"Our first responsibility is to public safety. We join Governor Perdue in working to see that these violent criminals stay in prison and that the state does anything and everything in its power to prevent their release. We have had legislative counsel researching this situation for over a week. Based on our review and as an attorney myself, I am confident that the Department of Correction is under no obligation to release these prisoners next week. We have shared our findings with the Attorney General and trust that as the chief law enforcement officer of this state, he will ensure that no one is released until every legal avenue is exhausted."
Statement from Attorney General Roy Cooper on prisoner release:
"In the interest of public safety and to ensure that sentences and release dates are properly calculated according to law, we have advised the Department of Correction that no prisoners have to be released until further direction from the courts. We continue to believe that these prisoners need to remain behind bars as we have argued for more than two years to the courts."
Click here to read a letter from Rep. Paul Stam and Rep. Nelson Dollar to Attorney General Roy Cooper and NC Secretary of Corrections, the Honorable Alvin Keller, regarding the potential release of 20 inmates.
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