« "Orange Is the News Blackout: The First Amendment and Media Access to Jails" | Main | "Card Carrying Sex Offenders" »

March 11, 2022

North Carolina Gov, following recommendation of state Juvenile Sentence Review Board, commutes sentence of three convicted of murder as teens

As detailed in this North Carolina Gov press release, "Governor Cooper has commuted the sentences of three people who were convicted for crimes committed when they were teenagers. The commutations follow an intensive review of their cases, including the length of their sentences, their records in prison, and their readiness to succeed outside of prison." Here is more from the press release (with links from the original):

The commutations are the first recommended to the Governor by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board which he established by Executive Order last year. The commutation applications were thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, the Office of the General Counsel and the Governor.  These commutations end prison sentences on time served.

The creation of the Review Board followed the change in North Carolina law which raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds, making North Carolina the last state in the nation to do so.  Studies of brain development and psychology show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds and behavior, and state and federal law treat children differently from adults for the purpose of sentencing.

The Review Board was also part of a series of recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) that has worked to rectify racial disparities in the criminal justice system. More than 80 percent of people committed to North Carolina prisons for crimes they committed as juveniles are people of color.

“North Carolina law continues to change to recognize that science is even more clear about immature brain development and decision making in younger people,” Cooper said. “As people become adults, they can change, turn their lives around, and engage as productive members of society.”

The three people whose sentences were commuted are:

  • April Leigh Barber, 46, who has served 30 years in prison for her role at age 15 in the murders of her grandparents, Lillie and Aaron Barber, in Wilkes County. While incarcerated, Ms. Barber has been consistently employed and has participated in significant programming, including earning her G.E.D. and paralegal certificate. Link to commutation.
  • Joshua McKay, 37, who has served 20 years in prison for the murder at age 17 of Mary Catherine Young in Richmond County. While incarcerated, Mr. McKay has been consistently employed, including as a carpenter and welder. Mr. McKay’s projected release date absent this commutation would have been in November 2022. Link to commutation.
  • Anthony Willis, 42, who has served 26 years in prison for the murder at age 16 of Benjamin Franklin Miller in Cumberland County. While incarcerated, Mr. Willis has been consistently employed and has completed five college degrees. Link to commutation.

The three people will be subject to post-release supervision by Community Corrections at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to help them succeed and avoid missteps when they return to their communities.  “Most of the individuals who enter prisons will return to their communities one day. Providing high quality, evidenced based treatment and programming is a top priority for our prison system,” said Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe. “These commutations should inspire individuals who are incarcerated to use all available resources to better themselves and prepare for a successful return to society.”

The Review Board continues to review petitions from those who were incarcerated for crimes committed as juveniles, and looks at many factors in its review, including rehabilitation and maturity demonstrated by the individual, record of education or other work while incarcerated, record of good behavior or infractions, input from the victim or members of the victim’s family, and more.

March 11, 2022 at 10:11 AM | Permalink


Twenty years isn’t enough for a home invasion murder. Cooper deserves a lot of calumny for this, and owns any future victimization .

Posted by: Federalist | Mar 11, 2022 12:50:08 PM

LOL Federalist. You should try reading. McKay was scheduled for release in November of this year. He literally let him out 8 months early. But I guess in your world he "deserves a lot of calumny . . ., and owns any future victimization."

Posted by: whatever | Mar 11, 2022 3:13:51 PM

Scheduled for release doesn’t mean will be released.

It’s just not enough time, and he should serve every day

Posted by: Federalist | Mar 11, 2022 4:03:52 PM

I will never understand people who hold the belief that an increase in the severity of punishments will significantly reduce acts of violence, crimes of moral turpitude, addictions, immorality, etc. While those on the right campaign for stiffer penalties, there is no empirical data that shows that their approach is at all effective. IN FACT, studies show that the longer the sentence, the higher the rate of recidivism. (https://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/1152/Wsipp_Recidivism-The-Effect-of-Incarceration-and-Length-of-Time-Served_Full-Report.pdf)
While certainly a wrongdoer needs incapacitation for a period of time, and a message sent to society that there is a penalty for criminal acts, in the end, increasing the severity of punishment alone is a failing formula. While there is no fool-proof 100% cure for all wrongdoers, the vast majority of young people in need of rehabilitation respond positively to honest and effective efforts to enable them to live productive lives, once their punishment has been satisfied. Some, but not many, prison programs are a positive step in the right direction. However, many such programs are nothing more than "window dressing" designed to promote the questionable magnanimity of prison wardens, politicians and the like. Post-punishment, one needs a support system, employment opportunities, further educational opportunities, etc.
In the end, we must put more effective efforts into "enabling man to do right" as opposed to increases in "disabling man to do wrong". We do more than enough in the latter, and not nearly enough in the former.

Posted by: drud cnslr | Mar 11, 2022 4:12:03 PM

More studies on this issue:

Fifty studies dating from 1958 involving 336,052 offenders produced 325 correlations between recidivism and (a) length of time in prison and recidivism or (b) serving a prison sentence vs. receiving a community-based sanction.

The data was analysed using quantitative methods (i.e., meta-analysis) to determine whether prison reduced criminal behaviour or recidivism.

The results were as follows: under both of the above conditions, prison produced slight increases in recidivism. Secondly, there was some tendency for lower risk offenders to be more negatively affected by the prison experience.


Posted by: drud cnslr | Mar 11, 2022 4:36:18 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB