Trooper’s second killer added to ‘release list’

Published 11:08 am Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RALEIGH – Another inmate currently serving a life sentence for the 1975 slaying of a local North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper has been added to a growing list of prisoners that may soon be granted their freedom.

Joseph Seaborn was among the list of seven inmates whose life sentences could be affected by a recent court ruling.

Seaborn, 55, formerly of Weldon, joins Faye Beatrice Brown, 56, formerly of Garysburg, as two of the now 27 inmates whose “life” sentences may be deemed as fulfilled.

That duo, along with Frankie Squire (who died in prison on Jan. 4, 2001) was charged in 1975 murder of North Carolina State Highway Patrol Trooper Tom Davis of Windsor. All were originally were sentenced to death for their roles in Davis’ murder, but later had those sentences commuted to life behind bars.

Seaborn and Brown began their sentences on July 6, 1977.

Trooper Davis was shot and killed in Williamston on Sept. 2, 1975 when he stopped a vehicle he observed run a red light at the intersection of U.S. 17 and U.S. 64. Unbeknownst to Patrolman Davis, the vehicle contained three suspects who had just robbed a BB&T bank in nearby Jamesville. When Trooper Davis leaned down to speak with the driver, he was shot with a sawed-off shotgun.

The three suspects –Brown, Squire and Seaborn – fled but were later apprehended as they hid in a bean field.

On Oct. 15, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a life sentence is 40 years. At the time of the sentencing in the Davis murder, a life sentence was 80 years. That changed in the early 80’s when the state’s sentencing laws defined a “life” term as 40 years. Those sentenced prior to that change qualified for a retroactive reduction.

Figuring in “good behavior” merits an inmate receives while behind bars further reduces their time in prison.

Originally, there were 20 inmates who may qualify for freedom as early as Oct. 29. Brown was on the original list, one that included a total of 19 convicted murderers and rapists. Two of those rapes involved girls under age 12.

According to a press release sent Saturday (Oct. 24) from the North Carolina Department of Correction, Seaborn’s name was on a new list of seven additional inmates that may qualify for release under the recent court ruling. Seaborn is currently serving his sentence at Caledonia Correctional Institution, located near Tillery in Halifax County.

In addition to Seaborn, the new list includes a trio of inmates serving life sentences for first degree murder, including one (Barry Holcomb) that shot his father in the head.

The Department of Correction is working to notify victims of these additional offenders. Victims of these crimes who have not yet been contacted by a DOC representative are asked to call the DOC Office of Victim Services at 1-866-719-0108.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has vowed to keep these prisoners behind bars.

“When I learned that the (North Carolina) Supreme Court had issued a ruling that meant offenders serving life in prison would be released after a mere 35 years, I was appalled,” the Governor said in the press release issued late last week. “Like most of my fellow North Carolinians, I believe life should mean life, and even if a life sentence is defined as 80 years, getting out after only 35 is simply unacceptable.”

She added, “These are people who have been denied parole repeatedly, and many who have numerous infractions during their prison stay. I do not believe they are ready for release onto the streets of our communities.”

At issue with the Governor are the “good behavior” credits applied to prisoners incarcerated in North Carolina prisons. Those credits help trim time off a prison term, but Perdue insists they were not meant to apply for inmates whose crimes include murder and/or rape.

“At the time, the DOC (Department of Correction) gave inmates day-for-day credits under the authority of the then-secretary,” the Governor said. “There is a real question whether the General Assembly intended for the DOC to have that kind of authority. I do not believe they did, and my legal counsel agrees. This raises the very real question that these inmates should not be eligible for early release.”

The Governor stated that until these new legal issues have been resolved by the courts, these violent offenders will not be released.