RALEIGH – Emails obtained by Jones & Blount show that former state House Rep. Robert Brawley, now a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, tried to wield influence to have the life sentence reduced for a school teacher convicted of more than 80 counts of child molestation, crimes that spanned decades.
The emails show that Brawley tried to have the inmate, John Thomas Patterson, moved closer to the Mooresville area or have his sentence reduced. Brawley wrote the original email from his personal account and had his legislative assistant forward it to Ryan Combs, legislative liaison for the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Combs authenticated the emails Thursday.
“John Patterson is a friend of mine and a great teacher,” Brawley wrote in one email sent in September 2014. “Can we find a way to help him? Either moving him closer to Mooresville, where his family is or reducing his sentence?”
Brawley did not return calls or emails for comment on this story.
Patterson was convicted in 2014 of first degree sexual offense with a child, a crime that carries a mandatory life sentence in North Carolina. According to Amy Dyson, a detective in the Iredell County sheriff’s office, Patterson was a fourth grade teacher who was prominent in the Mooresville community, especially at a local Presbyterian church, where he played piano and served in leadership positions. He was also convicted of 86 counts of indecent liberties with a child, each of which resulted in three-year sentences.
Patterson resigned his teaching job in 1987 after he was accused by one boy, but Dyson says the boy and his family refused to testify in the case. More than 20 years later, a former student of Patterson’s told his mother about the abuse, and after she worked tirelessly to publicize the accusations, a torrent of alleged victims came forward. Patterson was convicted in 2014 of all counts against him. He is serving a life sentence plus more than 250 years in a prison in Bertie County.
When Combs, the legislative liaison, informed Brawley of the severity of Patterson’s crimes and the fact that multiple victims’ families requested he be kept far from the Mooresville area, Brawley allowed that he had not considered the victims.
Saying his objective was to keep families together, Brawley wrote that “perhaps I was a bit thoughtless not to think about the possible affects [sic] on the victims [sic] family. Tommy was a friend growing up and we have mutual friends who would like to help but the victims [sic] family should receive first consideration. Again thank you and this ends my involvement.”
Brawley filed Wednesday to run for governor. The Iredell County insurance salesman served nearly 20 years in the N.C. House in two stints, retiring in 1998 and then returning following the 2012 election, only to lose a bid for re-election in 2014. He said his campaign will focus on transportation issues and education policy.
UPDATE: This story was updated on Dec. 11 based on further information from the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The number of criminal counts against Patterson and the number of years he is serving has been updated.