A North Carolina judge wasn’t careless while sentencing a man to life in prison without parole for the murders of two law enforcement officers during a traffic stop, crimes he participated in as a juvenile, the state Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.
The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the latest sentence for Kevin Salvador Golphin. He and his older brother, Tilmon, were initially sentenced to death for crimes including the 1997 murders of state Trooper Ed Lowry and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy David Hathcock.
Kevin Golphin was 17 years and nine months old at the time of the crimes. His sentence was changed to mandatory life without parole after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling determined that death sentences for juveniles violated the U.S. Constitution’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment.
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Subsequent Supreme Court decisions got rid of mandatory life sentences for juveniles and led North Carolina lawmakers to create a process by which a judge must evaluate factors before determining whether a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole or life with the possibility of parole. The process then had to be applied retroactively to people like Golphin.
In April 2022, Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock resentenced Golphin, now 44, to life without parole after reviewing nine mitigating factors set out in state law.
While some factors carried little or slight mitigating weight, such as his age and ability to appreciate the consequences of his actions, Lock wrote that Golphin’s crimes “demonstrate his permanent incorrigibility and not his unfortunate yet transient immaturity” and align with life in prison without parole.
“We acknowledge there is room for different views on the mitigating impact of each factor, but given the sentencing court’s findings,” Lock didn’t abuse his discretion, Judge Donna Stroud wrote in Tuesday’s opinion.
Chief Judge Chris Dillon and Judge Michael Stading agreed with Stroud’s decision at the intermediate-level Court of Appeals. Golphin’s attorneys could ask the state Supreme Court to take up the case.
Tilmon Golphin, now 45, is also serving life in prison without parole through a now-repealed law that told state courts to commute death-row sentences to life when it’s determined racial bias was the reason or a significant factor in a offender’s death sentence. The Golphins are Black; the two slain officers were white.
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