Unanimous Appeals Court upholds life sentence for cop killer Golphin

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  • The state Court of Appeals has upheld a sentence of life in prison without parole for Kevin Salvador Golphin, one of two brothers involved in the high-profile killings of two law enforcement officers in Cumberland County in 1997.
  • Golphin had challenged his life sentence after a 2016 US Supreme Court decision ended mandatory life sentences for criminals who committed crimes as juveniles.
  • The Appeals Court affirmed a trial judge's 2022 decision that Golphin's crimes demonstrated his "incorrigibility," or inability to be reformed in prison.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals has upheld a life sentence without parole for Kevin Salvador Golphin, one of two brothers who killed two law enforcement officers in Cumberland County in 1997.

Originally sentenced to death, Golphin’s sentence had been reduced to life in prison without parole after the US Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Golphin was 17 at the time of the murders.

Golphin challenged his reduced sentence after a 2016 US Supreme Court ruling ended mandatory life sentences for juveniles. A trial judge ruled in April 2022 that Golphin’s “crimes demonstrate his permanent incorrigibility and not his unfortunate yet transient immaturity” at the time of the murders. The judge handed down consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole for the two killings.

The Appeals Court addressed Golphin’s argument that Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock reached the wrong conclusions from the evidence.

“Much of Defendant’s argument is dedicated to showing how he has improved while incarcerated, and therefore, he contends he must be considered as capable of rehabilitation within the meaning of Kelliher and Miller,” two precedent cases, wrote Appeals Court Judge Donna Stroud. “But Defendant’s argument ignores both evidence unfavorable to him and the sentencing court’s discretion in weighing the evidence.”

Among the factors judges considered was Golphin’s “incorrigibility,” meaning the possibility that he could not be reformed in prison.

“Here, after Defendant’s brother shot both officers, Defendant shot them both, again,” Stroud wrote. “The officers were incapacitated after Defendant’s brother first shot them, yet Defendant still removed Trooper Lowry’s weapon from its holster and shot each officer again. Thus, Kelliher does not prevent the sentencing court from finding Defendant to be permanently incorrigible.”

Chief Judge Chris Dillon and Judge Michael Stading joined Stroud’s opinion.

Carolina Journal’s David Larson recounted facts of the Golphin brothers’ misdeeds in 2022, 25 years after the killings.

“Tilmon and Kevin Golphin were troubled teenage brothers from near Richmond, Virginia, who ended an interstate crime spree by shooting and killing two officers in Cumberland County, North Carolina, on Sept. 23, 1997.”

“On that September day, Tilmon, 19; and Kevin, 17; entered Financial Lenders in Kingstree, South Carolina, wearing masks and armed with a Soviet military rifle believed to be stolen from their grandfather, according to the Fayetteville Observer. They forced the two female employees into the bathroom and made them face the wall. The women heard the clicking of the rifle around half a dozen times but no shots were fired. Afterwards, the brothers left with a number of items, including one employee’s green Toyota Camry.”

“South Carolina police put out a ‘BOLO,’ or ‘be-on-the-lookout’ order, for the brothers and the green Camry. Two hours later, when Lowry pulled the Golphins over on I-95 in Fayetteville, he did not know about the BOLO. He simply noticed the driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.” 

“Before he was aware the car was stolen, Lowry allowed Kevin, the driver, to come back and sit in the passenger seat of the cruiser with him while he wrote the ticket. But when they ran the plates and learned about the BOLO and the fact that the car was stolen, the situation escalated quickly. Lowry called for backup, and without any other state troopers available, Cumberland County Deputy David Hathcock arrived soon after.”

“Lowry drew his weapon and attempted to secure Kevin while directing Hathcock to secure Tilmon, but Kevin began to struggle with Lowry. Tilmon exited the Camry and walked back to where his brother was struggling. After the officers pepper sprayed Kevin, Tilmon ran back to get his rifle and began firing at both officers, first Hathcock then Lowry. Both were struck multiple times. With Lowry moaning on the ground, Kevin then armed himself with Lowry’s pistol and shot Lowry at least three times before shooting Hathcock as well.”