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Once sentenced to death, killer due to be freed next month

RALEIGH (AP) A killer once sentenced to death for fatally shooting a woman in a church parking lot 30 years ago is being freed from prison next month, North Carolina’s parole commission said Aug. 6.

James McDowell, 50, has been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder but will be released Sept. 21, the state Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission said in a written statement. The commission sets parole for criminals convicted of crimes committed before October 1994, when parole was eliminated.

Documents explaining the commission’s decision to grant McDowell’s early release were not provided after a request from The Associated Press. The documents can be withheld from the public under state law, state prisons spokesman Jerry Higgins said in an email.

The state Supreme Court in 1991 found errors in the sentencing phase of McDowell’s 1988 trial and converted his death sentence to life in prison.

McDowell shot and killed Doris Gillie in her car as she was leaving the Durham Gospel Center after attending a prayer service in 1987. Gillie’s family had previously opposed McDowell being granted parole, but her son did not return a message seeking comment Aug. 6.

McDowell had accumulated 40 prison infractions over the years for offenses including fighting, faking illness and disobeying orders, but the last incident was in 2002, according to inmate records.

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