If NC killer goes free, it would be a travesty of justice

Fayetteville ObserverApril 17, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Fayetteville Observer:

Bobby Bowden is hoping for one more free pass. The last one saved his life. The next one could set him free to enjoy that life.

If he gets it, it will be a travesty of what most of us consider justice.

Bowden and an accomplice held up a 7-Eleven on McArthur Road in August 1975. They shot and killed the convenience store manager, Larry Lovette, and customer Norma Ehrhart. They were quickly caught, tried and convicted. Bowden was sentenced to death.

The next year, he got his first lucky break. The U.S. Supreme Court said state death-penalty procedures in effect at the time he was sentenced were unconstitutional. He was re-sentenced to life in prison.

Today, life in prison on a first-degree murder charge means you spend all your remaining days locked up. But North Carolina law was not without some quirks back then (or now, for that matter). Life in prison then was defined as 80 years. Another law on the books at that time cut prison sentences in half. And inmates were all eligible for further sentence reductions for good conduct.

Under those now-defunct rules, his sentence should expire late next year. Good behavior, Bowden said, made him eligible for release in 2009.

The prison system nearly did set him free, until then-Gov. Bev Perdue intervened and canceled his release.

Bowden, who is 65, went before the state Supreme Court this week and his lawyer argued that in light of the laws that were in effect at the time of his sentencing, he should be released immediately. “When the Department of Corrections determined his sentence expired on Oct. 14, 2009, and that he would be released on Oct. 29, 2009,” lawyer Katherine Jane Allen said, “DOC crossed the Rubicon. They reached a point of no return. The credits cannot be revoked and release cannot be halted without running afoul of the constitution.”

The court is likely to consider the case for a few months before ruling. And given the ludicrous set of laws in effect in the 1970s, we wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Bowden goes free.

That’s a mockery of what justice should be when a man murders two innocent people during an armed robbery. And it is repugnant to the community and to the families of Larry Lovette and Norma Ehrhart.

We hope the Supreme Court finds a way to uphold common sense instead of a sorry mistake lawmakers made 40 years ago.

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