Twenty murderers, rapists and robbers sentenced to life in North Carolina prisons in the 1970s will be released at the end of October as a result of recent court rulings.
Most of the inmates are in their 50s and 60s, but many of them were convicted years ago of gruesome crimes that might have kept them locked up longer today. One of them successfully petitioned the courts to recognize that old laws defined a life sentence as 80 years, and that another law cut those sentences in half.
Ten of those scheduled to be released were sex offenders, including men who raped young girls. Seven have spent time on death row. The one woman in the group was convicted of murdering a state trooper while fleeing a bank robbery. State officials said Thursday they have no choice but to release them.
"I am appalled that the state of North Carolina is being forced to release prisoners who have committed the most heinous crimes, without any review of their cases," said Gov. Beverly Perdue.
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Thomas Bennett, executive director of the N.C. Victim Assistance Network, worries about the victims' safety and stability.
"This will open new wounds and retraumatize crime victims," Bennett said. "These are bad actors. These are not people we want on the streets."
Perdue's office said she was determined to find a way to keep the inmates in prison, but a spokesman for the state's attorney general said it is unlikely she will prevail.
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