Kevin Golphin will tell you he is a killer with remorse.
Not the 17-year-old today that he was on Sept. 23, 1997, when Kevin Golphin and his brother, Tilmon Golphin, murdered a N.C. Highway patrolman and a Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy during a seat belt stop along Interstate 95, where the brothers took the lives of veteran Trooper Ed Lowry and Deputy David Hathcock.
“I am very sorry I took those officers’ lives,” Kevin Golphin, now 44, said on the final day of a three-day resentencing hearing in April 2022 at the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse, where a team of New York defense lawyers argued for Kevin Golphin’s eligibility for parole from a life sentence. “I just want to let the family know I made a mistake, a tragic mistake. I know I caused you a lot of pain. Y’all have the right never to forgive me, and I hope one day you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Kevin Golphin testified that neither he nor his brother planned to kill Lowry or Hathcock after the trooper pulled over Kevin Golphin for a seat belt violation hours after the brothers held up a finance office in Kingstree, South Carolina, and stole an employee’s 1996 green Toyota Camry.
As Kevin Golphin resisted arrest by Lowry, according to published reports about the brothers’ 1998 trial, Tilmon Golphin broke free from Hathcock, retrieved an SKS semi-automatic rifle from the Camry and began the deadly shooting assault on the lawmen.
Tilmon and Kevin Golphin were sentenced to death in 1998, with the death row sentences later changed to life without parole — Kevin Golphin, because of his age at the time of the murders, and Tilmon Golphin in accordance with the state Racial Justice Act of 2009.
Kevin Golphin has had plenty of days and nights at the Nash Correctional Institution in Nash County to reflect on that fateful day that stunned this community, and a team of New York lawyers argued to Judge Thomas Lock that Kevin Golphin has become a model inmate since 2014, and the lawyers brought along experts to say so, too.
He reads self-help improvement books, a forensic psychologist from Chapel Hill would support the lawyers’ arguments, and Kevin Golphin volunteers for prison work assignments.
“There has been substantial change,” the psychologist told the judge. “His behavior has substantially improved. He made a conscious decision to rectify his life. It gives me hope for future adjustments. It’s maturity. He’s thoughtful and reflective. It’s genuine. He talks about the two Kevins. He has night terrors of what happened to Officer Lowry and Deputy Hathcock. He accepted responsibility and has remorse.”
‘A part of me died that day’
Rob Thompson is the 53-year-old senior prosecutor from the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office. Thompson argued on behalf of the slain law enforcement officers and the fallen trooper’s family, including widow Dixie Lowry Davis and Al Lowery, younger brother of Ed Lowry.
“A part of me died that day, and I will never get that back,” Dixie Lowry Davis told the judge. “After my husband lay bleeding out and dying, Kevin took his service revolver and shot him again and again and again.”
Al Lowry told the judge about later seeing his lifeless brother still in the trooper uniform on a gurney at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.
“My brother was shot eight times,” he said. “Eight times is not an accidental shooting.”
He turned toward Kevin Golphin’s lawyers, who argued that Kevin Golphin was an underage minor when he took the lives of Lowry and Hathcock, and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional.
Al Lowry had no tolerance for the New York lawyers’ pleas for parole.
“Y’all want him to get out on parole,” he said with a stern look. “Where’s my brother’s parole? When is he coming back? When is he getting his parole?”
These were three tense and emotional days of reliving Sept. 23, 1997, when law enforcement agencies received the emergency dispatches of “Officers down.”
Tilmon Golphin was 19 and Kevin Golphin was just three months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the shooting.
Kevin Golphin testified that he and his brother never planned to kill the trooper and the deputy after Ed Lowry pulled over the stolen Toyota Camry. They were on their way to their home state of Virginia, he testified, to rob a Food Lion in Richmond.
“He’s repentant,” a lawyer told the judge on behalf of Kevin Golphin. “He would like nothing more than to reverse what he did to Trooper Lowry and Deputy Hathcock. Kevin deserves a second chance to show the parole commission” what he can do with the rest of his life. “He wants to make it right.”
Trooper Ed Lowry was 47, with 22-years as a patrolman. Deputy David Hathcock was 57, with 20 years as a deputy.
“I’m suggesting life without the possibility of parole for shooting Trooper Lowry and Deputy Hathcock,” Thompson told the judge. “The defendant, with all due respect, is not entitled. Twelve jurors heard [the case at trial] and imposed the harshest penalty. You should consider, your honor, the jury has spoken.”
Hope for Kevin Golphin’s potential parole on April 13, 2022, would rest with Judge Thomas Lock. Lock ultimately ruled that the defendant should be sentenced to life without parole.
‘Where he should be’
A N.C. Court of Appeals panel of justices Donna Stroud, Chris Dillon and Michael Stading on Tuesday stood by Lock’s decision.
Prosecutor Rob Thompson said this week he believes Kevin Golphin is where he should be, after learning of the state appellate court decision.
“Judge Tom Lock just did a phenomenal job,” Thompson told me. “He stayed within the law. He clawed through the necessary findings. Apparently, these appellate court judges also agreed with that assessment, and they also knew what they were doing.”
Thompson says he was not convinced of what he heard at the April 2022 resentencing hearing, and Thompson stands by the Tuesday decision of the state appellate justices.
“Every decision that put him in prison was his,” Rob Thompson said about Kevin Golphin. “And it’s just that simple.”
Thompson says that the moment he learned of the N.C. Appeals Court ruling, he had Calandra Hartwell, who is the victims’ homicide coordinator for the District Attorney’s Office, call widow Dixie Lowry Davis.
“Of course, I am greatly relieved that the prior ruling of life without parole stands,” Davis, 72, told me late Thursday night. “Kevin Golphin is an evil person, who would only murder again if given the chance to be paroled. Everyone is safer with him and his brother behind bars.”
As of the N.C. Court of Appeals and three justices’ decision, Kevin Golphin will live out his life behind prison walls. Tilmon Golphin already is serving a life sentence at the Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County, according to the N.C. Dept. of Adult Correction website’s inmate locator, without the possibility of parole.
No parole for Kevin Golphin, either, for his part in taking the lives of two lawmen on a bright and sunny Tuesday just past noon more than 26 years ago.
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961.