Trooper’s killers remain behind bars

Published 11:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

RALEIGH – It now appears that two of the three individuals responsible for the 1975 murder of a local North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper are not eligible for early release from prison.

In a story that broke last month in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, a ruling from a North Carolina Appellate Court scheduled Oct. 29 as the release date for 20 convicted criminals. Included on that list was Faye Beatrice Brown, 56, formerly of Garysburg. She was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder of Trooper Tom Davis of Windsor and began her incarceration on July 8, 1977.

Also charged in that crime was Joseph Seaborn, 55, formerly of Weldon. Seaborn was among seven additional inmates whose names were added to the original list of 20 prisoners that qualified as having their “life” sentences fulfilled.

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue expressed her outrage when the news first broke in mid-October concerning the early release of murderers, rapists and other criminals convicted of what she said were, “the most heinous of crimes.” The Governor vowed to use every means available to keep these criminals behind bars.

Apparently, Perdue meant what she said.

On Thursday, Gov. Perdue announced that the North Carolina Department of Correction (DOC) has calculated the unconditional release dates for the affected inmates. According to these calculations, the earliest unconditional release date is scheduled for 2054.

“I will continue to pursue all legal means of preventing the release of these inmates without any review by the parole board or any post-release supervision,” said Gov. Perdue. “I have asked (DOC) Secretary (Alvin) Keller to review all records to ensure that the inmates are not awarded any credits for which they are not eligible.”

Pursuant to the court decision, DOC has calculated unconditional release dates for those prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes committed between April 8, 1974 and June 30, 1978, which applies to Brown and Seaborn. For this group of offenders, records had previously shown release dates of “LIFE,” reflecting that no unconditional release was thought to be available to them. These sentences must now be treated as statutory life sentences of 80 years.

Secretary Keller has directed that for each life sentence imposed for crimes during this time period, the unconditional release date shall be calculated as 80 years minus applicable jail credit earned while the prisoner awaited conviction and sentencing.

As has been the practice of the DOC for at least 50 years, Secretary Keller will continue awarding good behavior credits for prisoners with life sentences, but only for purposes of earning a more favorable custody grade, for becoming eligible for parole or when the Governor commutes a prisoner’s sentence. Such credits will not be awarded for purposes of calculating an unconditional release date. This has been the procedure of the Department of Correction since at least 1955, during which time the head of the corrections agency has held statutory authority to establish rules and regulations as to grades of prisoners, rewards and privileges applicable to the classification of prisoners and allowances of time for good behavior.

The Fair Sentencing Act passed in 1981 excluded Class A and B felons from receiving good behavior credits for purposes of unconditional release from prison [15A-1340.1 (a)]. That same act lowered a “life” sentence from 80 to 40 years.

“I cannot see any meaningful difference between prisoners with statutory life sentences of 80 years and Class A and B felons under the Fair Sentencing Act in that their crimes are similarly heinous,” Keller said.

The DOC has filed an affidavit from Secretary Keller explaining this release date calculation in Cleveland Superior Court for the State v. Wilbur William Folston case. Similar affidavits will be filed in the Bowden case and others where judges have ordered release dates to be calculated for similarly situated inmates.

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, Seaborn and Frankie Squire – fled but were later apprehended as they hid in a bean field.

During interrogation, Seaborn admitted to shooting the trooper. He said he picked-up a shotgun in the car and as the trooper approached the driver’s side window of the bank robber’s vehicle, the weapon discharged by accident.

Squire died Jan. 4, 2001 while in prison.

In 2004, the North Carolina Department of Transportation named the bridge spanning the Roanoke River on US 17 at the Bertie-Martin County line in honor of Trooper Davis.