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Parole granted for man convicted and sentenced to life for rape in 1980

Shellman Hughes was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1980 after a conviction of first degree rape. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NC DPS)
Shellman Hughes was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1980 after a conviction of first degree rape. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NC DPS)

RALEIGH — A man sentenced to life imprisonment 40 years ago after he was convicted of first-degree rape by the New Hanover Superior Court has been approved for an early supervised release.

Set for parole in 2021, Hughes was released early due to the state’s efforts to release prisoners in order to avoid further Covid-19 outbreaks in state prisons.

The N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission, an independent agency in Raleigh responsible for releasing inmates who meet eligibility requirements based on state law, approved the parole of Shellman Hughes, 74.

He is currently being held in the Neuse Correctional Institute, a minimum- and medium-security prison that has been hit hard by a spread of Covid-19 cases among its prisoner population.

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“The state’s current sentencing law, Structured Sentencing, eliminates parole for crimes committed on or after Oct. 1, 1994,” according to a letter sent to media outlets by the commission on Monday. “However, the Commission has the responsibility of paroling offenders who were sentenced under previous guidelines.”

The governor appoints the four members of the commission and also selects its chairman. Commissioners must reach a majority when denying or approving parole for eligible prisoners.

Hughes has a history of infractions during his time in prison: provoking assault in 1980, misusing medicine in 1985, active rioting in 1986, and offering or accepting a bribe from prison staff in 2005. He hasn’t received any other infractions since 2005, according to records provided by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

According to previous reporting by Star News, Shellman was set to be paroled in 2021 because of his participation in a vocational and educational program for inmates.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman Gregory Thomas said Hughes’ case was reviewed for possible early release as part of the state’s efforts to release prisoners due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Following release, he will be under parole supervision for 5 years,” Thomas said.

An outbreak this year at Neuse Correctional revealed how fast the virus is capable of spreading in the close confines of a prison facility, and influenced a lawsuit brought against the state by civil rights groups. In that case, a Wake County judge ruled that the conditions in state prisons during the pandemic have likely been unconstitutional, and ruled that the state had failed to comply with an initial order to test all inmates.

After the group initially filed the lawsuit on April 8, seeking the release of prisoners due to the pandemic, the state announced it would release 500 prisoners statewide the following day. On April 16, the state announced mass testing would take place at Neuse Correctional, which would soon expose one of the nation’s largest prison outbreaks at the time, according to reporting by Carolina Public Press.

It is unclear if Hughes’ release is part of the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in its prisons. When the state announced the release of 500 prisoners, it said it would review the cases of prisoners aged 65 and older with underlying health conditions, among other scenarios.

On April 2, Neuse Correctional identified its first two positive cases; that number rose to roughly 80 by April 16 and 430 by April 24, according to the NC DPS website. By July 19, that number had reached only 466, showing an apparently successful slowing of the spread there. 

Those with questions concerning Hughes’ release can call the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission at (919) 716-3010.

This article was updated at 12:54 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21 with information of Hughes’ release provided by NC DPS spokesman Gregory Thomas.

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