Inmates with life-sentences could get early release - Live5News.com | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports

Inmates with life-sentences could get early release

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Seven more violent criminals in North Carolina prisons have been added to the list of 20 murderers and rapists serving life sentences who could be released early.  The office of North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue says this changes nothing. 

The N.C. Department of Correction updated its numbers Saturday saying officials are still working to notify the victims' families.

The release of the initial 20 names on the first list already had people outraged and now there are potentially seven more who could get out early.  We're told more names could be added as well.

One of the seven added to the list on Saturday includes an inmate who killed a state trooper in 1975.

Now, there are 27 inmates scheduled for release next Thursday, but Perdue is blocking that.

The seven inmates added to the list includes murderers or rapists.  Three of the men -- Joseph Seaborn, Leroy Richardson, and Allen Roberts -- were originally sentenced to death.

Joseph Seaborn was convicted in the 1975 slaying of a North Carolina state trooper in Martin County.

"If an individual will kill a law enforcement officer, none of us are safe," said Terry Mangum, President of the N.C. Fraternal Order of Police.

One of the other inmates to be released early committed a crime in the Charlotte area.  Benny Herndon was convicted in Mecklenburg County in 1977.  He and another man broke into a woman's home where they robbed and raped her.

The potential release of the now 27 murders, rapists and robbers has outraged people all across the state.  Many are asking how did it happen?

Earlier this month, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that when the inmates were sentened between 1974 and 1978, the state defined a life sentence as 80 years in prison.  A second law effectively cut those sentences in half.

Lawyers for some of the inmates argued successfully that credits for good behavior in prison mean the inmates should be released now.

"I think it's important that the law be applied fairly regardless of whether you like the particular result," said Thomas Maher with the N.C. Office of Indigent Defense.

Perdue said this week she would block the convicts' release.  She argued that good behavior credits the inmates accured were improperly applied.  She wants the court system to sort out the issue. 

If the governor is unable to block the prisoners' release, "The real losers in this will be all of us--the citizens of North Carolina," Mangum said.

The governor is on a two-week economic development trip to Asia and hasn't responded to Saturday's news that seven more inmates serving life sentences could be released early.

However, her press secretary said the governor's views haven't changed.

For now, the inmates will stay in prison and there's no deadline for their release.

Meanwhile, the corrections department is keeping the inmates in question from participating in any work and community programs that allow them time out of prison.

A spokesman says the inmates have been riding an emotional roller coaster and officials didn't want them to make any rash decisions while in society.

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