Randall Jolly is a free man.
If you’ve lived in Orange County since 1990, you’ll have to let that one sink in.
Nearly 30 years after shooting and killing his wife, Dawn, in front of their daughter’s daycare center, Jolly was released from prison last fall.
In the late summer of 1989, Jolly terrorized his wife, chasing her all over the county, making repeated threats to kill her. He fired shots into her office computer in one unsuccessful attempt.
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Dawn Jolly had a protective order against her husband. It provided her exactly no protection at all. On September 19, 1989, he stalked her to their daughter’s daycare and shot her four times – at least once in the back – while she was trapped in the driver’s seat of a truck she had borrowed to avoid detection.
Two years later, I was at that daycare center to check it out for my 2-year-old son. I met with the director and she told me the story of that day, the trauma still evident.
She had arrived at the truck after a commotion, finding a mortally wounded mother asking about her daughter. Help was on the way, the director assured her, trying to encourage calm.
She described to me the scene and how different it was compared to television, where a person gets shot, collapses to the ground and dies almost instantly. No, she said. Dawn Jolly was talking to her, explaining what had happened and talking about her daughter being safe.
Soon after, she slipped away.
At the time, the prosecution of domestic-violence charges depended on the courage and determination of the crime’s victims — people who are usually mentally abused as well as physically. They were expected to stand up to their attackers and not wither under a process that almost invariably challenged their veracity. Women, as a category of citizens, were not presumed to be telling the truth.
After the trial, then District Attorney Carl Fox advocated for a change in the law that would eliminate the “heat of passion” defense, which makes it less serious to kill your spouse than a stranger. He advocated that abusers be forced to surrender firearms. According to the Giffords Law Center, North Carolina still has no law requiring such surrender.
According to FindLaw.com, a “heat of passion” killing in North Carolina, which would be considered voluntary manslaughter, is one “in which the offender acted in the heat of passion or in response to provocation (not premeditated or planned).” As long as an abuser can make clear he was impulsive, not calculating, he has some chance of facing only Class D felony charges and sentencing of 51 to 64 months in prison.
Jolly planned to kill his wife, and he said so. This simple statement of criminal intent likely secured his first-degree murder conviction and sentence of 20 years to life in prison, from which he has now been released.
The couple’s daughter is in her 30s now. So much time has passed. So much has changed. So much remains the same.
Randall Jolly was 35 years old at the time of his conviction. Now he’s 62 and free.
Jean Bolduc is a freelance writer in Chapel Hill.