06/25/09 — Officials: Move OK for Black, but not less time

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Officials: Move OK for Black, but not less time

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 25, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County's legislators didn't have much to say this week about the efforts to affect the prison sentence of former House speaker Jim Black, but none was opposed to the prospect of him being moved closer to home.

Black, who represented Mecklenburg County in the state House and served as speaker for a record-tying eight years, was incarcerated in July 2007 on federal charges following his conviction for accepting thousands of dollars in illegal payments while speaker.

He is not scheduled to be released until March 2012, but 150 people have written federal officials on Black's behalf asking for his sentence to be commuted or that he be moved closer to home.

Local legislators did not respond favorably to the idea that he might be released prematurely, but said they saw little problem with him being moved to a federal prison in either North Carolina or South Carolina. Currently he is serving his sentence in Lewisburg, Pa.

"If he serves his time, it shouldn't matter where he is," said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson.

In fact, legislators said, requests to have inmates moved to more convenient sites, particularly for health and family reasons, are fairly typical.

"I've not given it much thought," said Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston. "I don't know what his health situation is, but I've read that it's failing, so I don't have any problem if they want to move him closer to home.

"There's a human element to it, and as long as that does not contradict the public interest of justice, then I'll leave that up to those who know better than I do."

Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said he, too, didn't see anything wrong with the request to transfer facilities, but that he wouldn't want to see Black's sentence commuted unless he cooperated with prosecutors -- a provision that was part of his original sentencing.

"If he'd cooperate as far as telling what he knows (about other cases of abuse or corruption), then I'd go along with his sentence being reduced," Sager said.

But, as Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, said, it's going to be up to the court system to determine Black's fate.

"Jim Black needs to pay his time for his crimes, and how that's decided to be done is up to the judicial system," Davis said.

Rep. Van Braxton could not be reached for comment by press time.