NC Appeals Court rules convicted killer should be freed

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 20, 2013 

— A 64-year-old Fayetteville man convicted of two murders and sentenced to life in prison in the 1970s won support from the state Court of Appeals on Tuesday in his attempt to get credit for good conduct behind bars and early release.

A three-judge panel for the state appeals court agreed unanimously to uphold a Cumberland County Superior Court judge’s decision that a life sentence for inmate Bobby E. Bowden did not necessarily mean he would be imprisoned until his death.

But the state attorney general announced hours later that he would seek review by the state Supreme Court, halting the immediate release of Bowden.

Original sentence was death

On Aug. 7, 1975, Bowden and a cohort killed a convenience store clerk and a woman who walked in on the robbery while on her way to buy milk and bread. After initially receiving a death sentence, Bowden was sentenced to life in prison at a time when state law capped the maximum time behind bars at 80 years.

In 1981, another law cut sentence lengths in half.

Prisoners could further reduce their sentences by accruing credit for good behavior and other efforts.

Bowden has calculated that he has accrued credit worth six years and 10 months and tried several times since 2006 to win release.

In May 2012, Judge Gregory Weeks ordered Bowden’s release despite objections from prosecutors and prison system officials.

The appeals court agreed with Weeks and Bowden’s attorneys. The three-judge panel said prison officials calculated a 2009 release date for Bowden, but later reversed themselves after a public outcry over a previous ruling that could have led to the release of more than two dozen convicted killers and rapists. Dozens more could have become eligible in the months and years to come.

Perdue stopped earlier release

But their release was stopped by former Gov. Bev Perdue. She said violent criminals were not eligible to receive good behavior credits, that the credits were accrued only to improve an inmate’s chance for parole.

In a nod to Perdue’s argument, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that life sentences mean the life of the prisoner.

But the appeals court said Tuesday that Bowden’s case was different because emails and testimony show the state Department of Correction acknowledged counting the credits for Bowden and told him he would be released on Oct. 29, 2009.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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