Appeals court sides with claim of convicted killer

Aug. 20, 2013 @ 05:33 PM

RALEIGH — A North Carolina appeals court panel ruled Tuesday a convicted killer serving a life sentence was properly credited for good conduct behind bars and scheduled for early release, and that the state's prison system couldn't reverse itself in reaction to a public uproar.

The state Court of Appeals panel ruled 3-0 that the case of convicted killer Bobby E. Bowden of Fayetteville is different from the facts in another case in which the state Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that a life sentence should last for a prisoner's life.

The appeals court agreed with a Cumberland County judge who last year ordered that Bowden, 64, should be released because he served his time under old sentencing guidelines. A 1970s state law said a life sentence meant 80 years, which the state Supreme Court confirmed in a 2009 ruling.

The appeals court agreed with Bowden's attorneys that he accrued credits shaving time off that 80-year sentence, that prison officials calculated a 2009 release date for Bowden, and that officials later reversed themselves after a public outcry that more than two dozen convicted killers and rapists faced potential release. Dozens more could have become eligible in the months and years to come.

Gov. Beverly Perdue stopped their release because she said the violent criminals weren't eligible to receive good behavior credits, and that the credits were counted only to improve an inmate's chance at parole. The state Supreme Court largely accepted that argument in 2010, ruling that life sentences mean the life of the prisoner and that two convicted killers should continue serving their sentences.

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

Bowden "prepared for that release, and the DOC prepared for that release," Judge Wanda Bryant, wrote for the court. "The DOC's subsequent act of revoking defendant's sentence reduction credits violated his due process rights."

The decision will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Jane Allen, an attorney who handled Bowden's case for the state appellate defender's office, said in an email that she would not seek Bowden's release before all court appeals are concluded. Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks last year ordered that Bowden remain imprisoned until the appeals process is complete. Bowden is being held at Tillery Correctional Center in Halifax County.

Bowden was convicted of killing a clerk at a convenience store and a woman who walked in on the robbery when she went to the store to buy milk and bread.