More than 120 inmates in the North Carolina Department of Corrections will remain incarcerated after the state's high court ruled Friday that the applicable definition of the term "life sentence" is no longer the same as when they received one.
"Inmates sentenced to life in prison under past laws will continue to remain incarcerated until they are paroled," said State Secretary of Public Safety Kieran Shanahan. "Victims of these serious violent crimes can know that these offenders will not be released into our communities until we are sure that they are no longer a threat to public safety."
The Supreme Court's ruling comes a month after the state heard arguments in the case of NC inmates Clyde Lovette and Charles Lynch, who are currently serving time for second-degree murder and second-degree burglary, respectively. At the time of their convictions, the law stated that a "life sentence" was only 80 years in prison. By 2009, both inmates had earned enough work and good behavior credits to have their sentences reduced to almost 30 years, and argued this was grounds for their immediate parole.
The judge who sentenced Lovette--who is now 56--said that he should never be paroled, because at the age of 21 he strangled a 4-year-old to death with a rope. After Friday's ruling, he will remain in custody indefinitely.
State Secretary Shanahan said the Department of Public Safety will continue to encourage good behavior in all inmates who are affected by the court's decision, in hopes they may improve their chances of parole under current standards in the future.