Kevin Salvador Golphin will remain in prison for the rest of his life with no chance for parole, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday, for the murders in September 1997 of a Cumberland County deputy and an N.C. State Highway Patrol trooper near Fayetteville.
Golphin, now 44, had been seeking a ruling to make him eligible for parole based on the fact that he was 17, and a minor, when he and his brother, Tilmon, then 19, killed the law enforcement officers during a traffic stop on Interstate 95. The Golphins were fleeing from Kingstree, South Carolina, where they stole the car they were driving.
The Golphins shot Trooper Lloyd “Ed” Lowry and Deputy David Hathcock, both veteran officers who lived in Hope Mills. Their murders stunned and outraged the community and the region’s law officers.
The anger and outrage were rekindled repeatedly in the quarter century since the brothers were sentenced to death in May 1998 for the murders. Both Golphin brothers returned to Cumberland County Superior Court multiple times to get their death sentences successfully reduced to life in prison. And Kevin Golphin attempted to get his life sentence converted from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole.
Minors cannot get death penalty or automatic life sentences
At the time when Tilmon and Kevin Golphin killed Lowry and Hathcock, the state of North Carolina treated anyone age 16 or older and charged with a crime as an adult in the criminal justice system.
That made both Golphins eligible for the death penalty for the murders. And anyone not sentenced to death for first degree murder received an automatic sentence of life with no chance for parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 and 2012 ruled that those practices and laws were unconstitutional.
In 2005, the high court said people who commit crimes as juveniles shall not be sentenced to death for those crimes because that would violate the Constitution’s 8th Amendment. This amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Based on that ruling, Kevin Golphin’s death sentence was converted to life without parole during a hearing in Cumberland County in December 2005.
In 2012 and 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court said it is a violation of the 8th Amendment to automatically sentence people life without parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles.
As a result, North Carolina began evaluating which of its inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed while they were juveniles would be resentenced to life with parole. Those who were resentenced became eligible for parole after they served 25 years.
According to a previous court ruling, the only juvenile homicide offenders to be sentenced to life without parole are “those ‘exceedingly rare’ juveniles who cannot be rehabilitated.”
Golphin asked to be resentenced from life without parole to life with parole.
His hearing was held in April 2022 in Cumberland County Superior Court, the appeals court ruling says.
It had testimony from a law enforcement officer who investigated the murders, from Golphin, from a pediatric neuropsychologist who examined Golphin, and from family members of the trooper and deputy, the ruling says. Evidence that Golphin had been abused as a child, and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, was presented. So was evidence of his behavior and activities in prison.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock concluded that at the time of the murders, Golphin knew what he was doing and his level of maturity was not significantly different from peers of his age. Lock also found that Golphin’s misbehavior in prison, including participation in an escape plot, showed he was not benefiting from rehabilitation.
Lock ruled that Golphin shall remain in prison for life without parole.
A three-judge Court of Appeals panel, with judges Donna Stroud, Chris Dillon and Michael Stading, unanimously on Tuesday upheld Lock’s ruling.
Tilmon Golphin no longer on death row
Tilmon Golphin, 45, was removed from death row in 2012 under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, a law enacted in 2009 that said death row defendants can get their death sentences converted to life without parole if they can prove racism affected their prosecution and the imposition of the death penalty.
Tilmon’s Racial Justice Act ruling was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2015, and he returned to death row. Then in 2020, another N.C. Supreme Court ruling said it was unconstitutional to reimpose the death penalty on inmates who used the Racial Justice Act to commute their sentences to life without parole.
Tilmon Golphin was again removed from death row.
Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and email@example.com.
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