Commentary

Taylor: Time to give Bobby Ray Brown his life back

November 8, 2013 

“If I’d really killed the man, I’d be out of prison by now ...”

This statement was made by Bobby Ray Brown, an inmate in Orange County Correctional Center after he was again denied parole in August of this year.

In 1985 Brown was sentenced to Death Row on the testimony of Ricky Hopper, a 16-year-old delinquent. A few months later Hopper recanted and admitted he’d only testified at the trial to get immunity and $7,500. Brown was removed from Death Row but re-sentenced to life in prison.

Twenty-five years later Brown was given a MAPP, Mutual Agreement Parole Program, an agreement made between the Parole Board and inmate. It outlined the conditions for the prisoner’s release. It is given to “lifers” who have served over 20 years and are considered rehabilitated. Every year a number of these inmates are released. Ninety-five percent never return to prison.

Brown was a model inmate, liked and respected by staff and inmates. He’d been leaving the prison on passes two or three times a week for over a year. He had four months to service on his MAPP before he would be released when Sheriff Sam Page of Rockingham County and Sheriff Terry Johnson of Alamance got on TV and warned the public that a “Charles Manson” was about to be released onto their streets.

Brown’s MAPP was revoked and his honor grade taken away. He’d be eligible for parole in another three years.

When the parole date rolled around he was ready. A group which included Professor Ken Broun, emeritus dean of UNC Law School; a prospective employer; members of Brown’s family; and a petition signed by the murdered victim’s family asking that Brown be released, appeared before the Parole Board. He met all the requirements. He passed all the tests that parolees are required to take and his release seemed imminent.

A few weeks ago when he made his ritual Friday night telephone call to his sister she told him the bad news. Sheriff Page had been on TV that very night and boasted that once again he’d saved the citizens of Rockingham County from that vicious killer, Bobby Ray Brown – and as long as he was sheriff he’d see to it that he never got out. His parole was denied. There was no review – no hearing – no explanation.

“If I’d killed the man and done my time, Sam Page and Terry Johnson wouldn’t care if I got out. It had done been over,” Bobby said. “They let guys on MAPPs come back to their county all the time. But they put me here knowing I was innocent and they’re afraid to let me out – afraid I’ll kill them. Terry Johnson hates me ’cause he never could pin nothing on me. He thinks I know things.

“I ain’t never killed nobody and I ain’t starting now. I’m 71 years old. Spent 28 years in here for a crime I didn’t commit. All I want is to get out and spend what time I’ve got left with my family – before something happens to my brother and sister. They’ve suffered enough.”

R. L.Taylor is a regular contributor to the Chatham County Line and has been a newspaperman for 60 years.

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