RALEIGH — The state Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that means criminals sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape and other crimes during a four-year period in the 1970s are truly lifers.
The ruling comes less than a month after the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the cases of two inmates who said that they should be released from prison under the old laws.
Between 1974 and 1978, a sentence of life in prison was defined as 80 years behind bars. With credits for good behavior and productive work, some lifers contend they should be able to be freed in half that time.
Nearly two years ago, the state’s highest court ruled that public safety concerns outweighed other values such as sentencing fairness when deciding that prisoners convicted of first-degree murder during that four-year period were not eligible for early release.
Clyde Vernon Lovette, 56, and Charles Lynch, 61, the inmates seeking release, contended that they had earned credits for good conduct or extra work that reduced their sentences.
Lovette pleaded guilty to a 1978 second-degree murder in Guilford County. The judge who sentenced him said evidence showed that he had strangled a 4-year-old boy with a rope and “should never be paroled.”
Lynch was convicted in Guilford County of two counts of second-degree burglary. He broke into a woman’s home in 1978 while she was away, assaulted her when she returned, then broke into another house and stole a necklace.
Each received sentences of life imprisonment.
But for many years, the state Department of Corrections has had a system through which prisoners could earn credits for good conduct or extra work that reduced their sentences.
In their cases, Lovette and Lynch have argued that they had earned so many credits while in prison that their original 80-year life sentence term had diminished to about 30 by 2009. They sought release, and in June 2011, Allen Baddour, a Superior Court judge presiding over a hearing in Wake County, found that the men had served their life sentences after credits had been applied.
The state Supreme Court ruling issued Friday reversed that decision.