Life sentences for teen convicted of killing his parents are upheld by North Carolina appeals court

Published 7:04 pm Saturday, January 6, 2024

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Life sentences without parole for a young man who killed his parents were upheld Tuesday by a divided North Carolina appeals court panel, which said a trial judge properly reviewed potential mitigating factors before issuing them.

In a 2-1 decision, the intermediate-level state Court of Appeals affirmed the sentencing of Tristan Noah Borlase. A jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in 2022. He was one month shy of 18 years old when he attacked Tanya Maye Borlase and Jeffrey David Borlase in April 2019, according to authorities.

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His mother was stabbed, strangled and struck with blunt force in the family’s Watauga County home, according to evidence, while his father was stabbed multiple times outside the house. Earlier that day, his parents had punished him for a bad report from his high school that suggested he might not graduate, Tuesday’s ruling said. Borlase attempted to conceal his violent actions by hiding his parents’ bodies and trying to clean up the scene, the ruling said. He was located a day later in Tennessee.

While Borlase was tried in adult court, his age at the time of the crime meant that the most severe punishment he could receive was life without parole. And the U.S. Supreme Court has in recent years said procedures must be developed that take mitigating circumstances into account before deciding whether life in prison without parole is ordered in such cases for a juvenile.

In response, North Carolina law now has a process by which a defendant can offer evidence on several factors that touch on his youth, including his immaturity, family pressures and the likelihood that the defendant would benefit from rehabilitation behind bars.

Borlase’s lawyer argued that her client’s right against cruel and unusual punishment was violated when Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne issued two life sentences without the possibility of parole, running consecutively. She said that Horne was wrong to determine that Borlase’s crimes demonstrated irreparable corruption and permanent incorrigibility in light of the evidence.

Writing the majority opinion, Court of Appeals Judge Chris Dillon wrote that Horne “exercised discretion to determine an appropriate punishment. His decision was not arbitrary,” Dillon wrote, adding that based on his reasoning, “we conclude his findings are supported by substantial evidence.”

The judge who sentenced Borlase mentioned his “devious calculations made during the crimes, his lack of sincere remorse for those crimes, his manipulative behaviors during and after his crimes and other behaviors,” Dillon wrote. Court of Appeals Judge Fred Gore joined in the majority opinion that also declared Borlase received a fair trial.

Writing the dissenting opinion, Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood said he would have ordered a new sentencing hearing in part because Horne refused to consider relevant evidence of family pressures, his immaturity and his age.

Borlase’s lawyer had cited in part her client’s rocky relationship with his mother and conflicts over her religious reviews, a poor living arrangement and his depression and anxiety as factors that weren’t properly considered.

“The majority implies defendant murdered his parents because they took ‘his car keys and cell phone'” and prohibited him from participating on the school’s track team, Arrowood wrote. “The record before us, however, tells a much different story.”

An appeal to the state Supreme Court can be sought. A law that used to require the justices in most situations to hear cases with such split decisions if requested by a legal party was repealed in October.