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The governor pulls a fast one 

Well played, Bev.

She even fooled me ... and most of the media outlets across the state. That doesn't happen too often, but Gov. Bev E. Perdue's staff pulled a fast one in October, convincing much of the state that at least 20 child rapists, murderers and assorted violent inmates sentenced to life in prison would be set free Oct. 29. Perdue vowed to bar the prison doors to stop it, even if she had to defy the courts. The public loved it. Her approval numbers shot up. MSNBC and CNN even picked up the story.

In North Carolina, it ran under headlines like "State forced to free 20 violent criminals," in Raleigh's News & Observer and "Governor may defy courts over inmate release" in The Charlotte Observer.

Really? So who ordered their release? Media outlets across the state initially followed Perdue's lead, reporting that it was "the courts." And who set the Oct. 29 release date that Perdue promised to defy?

"Since that ruling, my staff and I have been doing everything we can to stop the release of these rapists and murderers," Perdue said in an Oct. 22 press release.

One problem. No court ever ordered their release. What a court ruled was that one inmate, Bobby Bowden, convicted of murdering two Fayetteville men in 1975, was eligible for a life sentence, and that a life sentence equaled 80 years, according to laws regarding the period. Other laws further cut life sentences for those who committed their crimes during a period in the 1970s.

The courts then remanded his case for a hearing to settle the question of how many sentence reduction credits Bowden is eligible to receive from the department of corrections. As of deadline, no court has ruled on that, or ordered his release. He may have several years left in prison, or he may have served his time.

Even N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said in an October statement that "no prisoners have to be released until further direction from the courts."

None of this stopped Perdue from spending the month of October whipping up a fictitious drama in which she played the role of the heroine blocking the prison doorway in contempt of a release order from ... someone.

Naturally, she never specified exactly whose order she planned to defy. State officials even explained that the Oct. 29 date for release was picked because the state traditionally has 20 days to comply with the court's ruling, even though, again, the courts had made no decision about the accurate length of Bowden's prison sentence -- or anyone else's.

So if the list of 20 -- it eventually grew to 27 in some publications -- violent inmates didn't come from the courts (with the exception of Bowden) where did it come from? Perdue's office, it appears, after it was provided to her by the state department of corrections. Top DOC officials are appointed by her and answer to her.

The whole charade began to fall apart when, according to an Associated Press wire story, Alvin Keller, the state's secretary of correction, testified under oath in a court hearing Dec. 9 that he "thought there was a possibility" that the group of 20 inmates sentenced under 1970s-era laws might have be released after state courts agreed on the length of their sentences.

"But he contended that he never said they would be released," the AP reported.

"I never ordered the release of anybody," Keller said. The DOC had merely gathered the names of inmates who might be eligible for release under 1970s-era sentencing laws if they pressed their cases in court. Perdue's office subsequently released the list. Crisis created. Governor to the rescue.

This explains why Perdue's Oct. 29 release date came and went without any attempt to release the inmates. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in Raleigh, the victims' families were thrown under the bus.

Many were shocked after they were contacted out of the blue by the department of corrections about the Oct. 29 release date. Grieving family members did media interviews across the state, expressing their outrage.

All of which led to lead sentences like the following in an Oct 22 Charlotte Observer article, "Gov. Beverly Perdue said today that the scheduled release of 20 inmates serving life sentences was 'unacceptable,' and that she was considering defying the courts in blocking their release next week."

"Letting them out is not going to be the answer that I am going to be able to live with," Perdue said in the article, which originally appeared in the News & Observer. "In other words, if I go to jail, are you going to visit me? Somebody said they were going to bring me cookies."

Whatever, Bev.

It's entirely possible that the courts could eventually order the release of some, all or none of these inmates. That depends on how different judges across the state rule in each case on whether the DOC has been applying time-off credits correctly.

No one, including Perdue, knows how these judges will rule.

Once they do, there's not much Perdue will be able to do about it.

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