Governor Cooper pardons 3 who committed crimes as teenagers

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper has commuted the sentences of three people convicted of crimes they committed as teenagers – including April barber.

The governor’s office said the announcements came after “intensive reviews” of the cases.

These three conversions are the first recommended for Cooper by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board he established supreme command last year.

“North Carolina law continues to change to recognize that the science is even clearer regarding immature brain development and decision-making in younger people,” Cooper said. “As people grow up, they can change, transform their lives, and engage as productive members of society.”

April Barber was serving a life sentence for the 1991 murder of her grandparents.

“April Barber was 15 and was run by a 29-year-old friend who has since passed away and did something terrible. But Governor Cooper gave her a second chance at life today. I am confident that she will be an excellent model citizen,” said attorney Don Vaughan. “The fact that she has helped other inmates, got her license to practice law while incarcerated, and did everything the Department of Corrections asked her to do, people deserve a second chance. Governor Cooper believes April Barber is one of them.”

April Barber, then just 15, was pregnant with the child of a 29-year-old man. She lived with her grandparents, Lillie and Aaron Barber, who adopted her.

April and the barbers disagreed on what to do with the child she was carrying. She and boyfriend Clinton Johnson set fire to the barber’s home in Wilkes County, killing them both.

April Barber had been serving a life sentence since 1992. Attempts to appeal the decision and requests for a clemency had previously failed.

Barber gave birth to a son named Colt Johnson, who attended Appalachian State University and played on the soccer team the year she won the national championship.

Johnson spoke to CBS 17 in December about his mother from his California home while awaiting possible news from Cooper’s office.

“We talk every day, this is my best friend, as she would also say. We’re very similar in that we’ve never spent much time together, but we’re very similar… almost like twins, sometimes it’s like wow,” he said.

Johnson has had hopes before. The nerves are no different this time.

“I’m impatient, anxious as ever, but continuing through this process is like taking a few steps forward and it feels like taking more steps back. So always just the fear and just making sure I’m prepared and she’s prepared for the next step if it happens,” Johnson said.

Attorney Kristin Parks represented Barber during her first appeal. Now with ACLU North Carolina, the two remain close ties.

“She always reminds me that it’s not about whether we win, it’s about our friendship, it’s the care we give to each other, just someone caring enough to stay with her has her in.” really meant a lot over the years. So I would say, you know, when I’m coming down as a lawyer or someone doing political work, she’s always the first to pick me up,” Parks said.

Parks said Barber was told by her original attorneys that if she pleaded guilty, she would not face the death penalty. Current law does not allow the death penalty for 15-year-olds.

April’s son Colt said his mother’s regrets and life over the past three decades should be considered. Barber was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“Look at how she’s acted over the years given limited resources, how she’s continued her education, how she’s always tried to advance in areas where she could, how she’s behaving with MS, like her has limited resources in how she’s trying to minimize and deal with the fact that it’s such a serious disease,” Johnson said.

Barber was housed at Anson Correctional Institution in Polkton, about 50 miles east of Charlotte.

Other commutations:

  • Joshua McKay, 37, who was serving 20 years in prison for the 17-year-old murder of Mary Catherine Young in Richmond County. During his incarceration, Mr. McKay was continuously employed, including as a carpenter and welder. Mr. McKay’s projected release date without this conversion would have been November 2022. Link to commutation.
  • Anthony Willis, 42, who served 26 years in prison for the Cumberland County murder of Benjamin Franklin Miller when he was 16. During his incarceration, Mr. Willis worked non-stop and earned five college degrees. Link to commutation.

https://www.cbs17.com/news/cooper-grants-clemency-to-3-who-committed-crimes-as-teens/ Governor Cooper pardons 3 who committed crimes as teenagers


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