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After 35 years, TV thief to be free
Raleigh News & Observer


May 19, 2005

An elderly man sentenced to life in prison for stealing a $140 television is being paroled after 35 years behind bars.

Junior Allen says he'll go home to his native Georgia and never come back.

"I ain't going to stick around," Allen said by phone from his prison in coastal Carteret County. "I feel like I've done worn out my welcome in North Carolina. And I know it's worn out me."

Allen, 65, can move to Georgetown, Ga., to live with his sister if parole authorities there agree to supervise him, North Carolina officials have decided.

A barely literate former migrant farm worker, Allen learned last week that he's being released. But he's not celebrating yet.

"I'm just waiting until the day comes," Allen said. "They've done told me so much, I won't believe nothing until I'm on the bus."

Under an old law, a judge sentenced Allen to life in prison for sneaking into the unlocked house of Lessie Johnson, 87, near Benson and stealing her 19-inch black-and-white Motorola TV. That was in 1970. Junior Allen was 30 years old.

The same year, President Nixon sent troops into Cambodia and established the Environmental Protection Agency. The Apollo 13 moonshot went awry. The Beatles disbanded, and Janis Joplin died.

"I been in here way too long," Allen said "I don't believe no justice been done in my case. I've overpaid for my crime. I feel like I got the back end of the tail."

Rich Rosen, a University of North Carolina law professor who took up Allen's cause three years ago, said the man's release is long overdue.

"It only took about 2 1/2 years," Rosen said. "It's been so long, and they've been so grudging, but it looks like he's finally getting out."

State prison records say Allen roughed up Johnson. Her relatives have said they were told she fought him off. But Allen was not charged with assault, and at trial, Johnson's home was presumed to have been unoccupied during the late-night theft.

Allen was convicted of second-degree burglary - a crime that could bring a life sentence then but nowadays draws no more than three years in prison.

The state Parole Commission can't set a release date until Georgia authorities say whether they'll manage Allen's parole.

At Carteret Correctional Center near Morehead City, N.C., where murderers and rapists come and go, Programs Director Enoch Hasberry has tracked Allen's progress the past year.

"When Junior came here, he was the bitter old man everybody expected," he said. "He had not a chip on his shoulder, but a VW. I told him, 'Junior, you've got to prepare yourself to get out, or you're going to die in prison.'

"Junior has come a long way," Hasberry said. "He's not the same guy who came to me a year ago. He's still not user-friendly. But he's not that bitter old man anymore."

Allen says he would like to sue the state for his lengthy incarceration - apparently a long shot given that his sentence was legal and he lost his court appeals.

"Knowing what they did to me in North Carolina, I can't get no peace or rest," Allen said. "But I'm going to get justice."

At the least, 3 1/2 decades after Allen's indefinite imprisonment, it looks as though he'll finally get out.

"He's ready to go home," Hasberry said. "And everybody here wants him to go home. He don't belong here. He has paid his dues and then some."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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