You can't make up stuff like this.
In one of his final acts as governor, Mike Easley took time out to slap the faces of the families of hundreds of murder victims. In a move so unfathomable it defies belief, Easley chose Robert Lee Guy as the winner of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award.
It is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a citizen by the governor for service to the state of North Carolina of an extraordinary nature. The award has been bestowed on a distinguished list of citizens with exceptional charitable and civic accomplishments in the past.
You could say that Guy distinguished himself as well. His well-chronicled tenure as head of the state's troubled probation department was such a disaster that it merited not one but two multi-part articles by the Raleigh News & Observer. One was in 2000, after the murder of Frederick Johnson focused attention on the probation system, and another one in 2008, after the high-profile murders of UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Eve Carson and Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato.
In the second series, the N&O outlined how, during Guy's disastrous tenure, 580 people committed murder or manslaughter while under the supervision of the N.C. Division of Community Corrections.
The corrections division can't prevent every homicide by those it manages on parole or probation. But when violent repeat offenders whose cases were mismanaged kill when they should have been locked up for violating probation, something is seriously wrong.
It's an assessment that Guy himself agreed with.
After the 2000 investigation by the newspaper and outside agencies, it was found that officers across the system were fabricating case file entries, failing to request the arrest of defendants who committed serious crimes and doing little or nothing when violent offenders missed appointments.
The situation had deteriorated to the point that the investigation found two offenders who committed serious crimes went up to five years without meeting with an officer or paying a combined $35,000 in victims' restitution.
"We do have an obligation to clean this up," Guy told the N&O in 2000. "I will not tolerate probation officers, supervisors or managers not doing their job."
A 2004 study of the state's disastrous parole system, however, showed the same problems still persisted, including the fact that officers were actually discouraged from revoking the probation of criminals who committed new crimes or didn't comply with terms set in court. Still, amazingly, Guy retained his position without a word from his boss, Easley.
After the brutal murder of Carson made national news in 2008, the entire nation grieved. That grief quickly turned to anger when the N&O reported that were it not for a state probation system in chaos, Carson's killers would have been in jail for violating their probation for other crimes.
One of the two young men charged with killing her, Lawrence Lovette Jr., now stands charged with killing a Duke University graduate student as well.
That fiasco garnered Guy national media coverage and a second multi-part series in the N&O documenting how the system's screwups under Guy have cost hundreds of people their lives. If that weren't enough, Guy admitted he filed away the reports of dangerous offenders without doing anything about them. And he admitted that yes, the system had "misplaced" 14,000 probationers it couldn't find while some probation agents sat around the office untrained.
Were there any doubts left at all that Guy was a walking disaster, a July 2008 study of the probation system by the National Institute of Corrections once again made clear where the blame for the Carson and Mahato killings fell. In 80 percent of 1,400 cases examined, policies were not followed adequately, the N&O reported.
According to the report, there was "ineffective management oversight at each level in the DCC."
All of which, in the warped mind of Mike Easley, somehow qualified Guy to win the state's most prestigious award.
But Easley wasn't alone in that assessment. Democrat Majority Leader Tony Rand showed up personally to present the award to Guy, telling voters all they need to know about the party's commitment to keeping North Carolinians safe from violent criminals.
The irony, of course, was that the award was presented at Guy's "retirement" luncheon. Guy was forced to retire -- or face being fired -- by current governor Beverly Perdue, who vowed to remove him on the campaign trail.
Even Guy couldn't believe it.
"I was truly shocked but very honored that I received the award after 31 years of public service," Raleigh's WRAL reported Guy as saying.
And it was shocking, especially when you consider that Guy has done more to maim and kill the state's citizens than any other recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award. In fact, it isn't clear that anyone has been dispatched, directly or indirectly, in the course of the charitable and civic work performed by others who have received the award.
Rand told WRAL he was "honored to make the presentation" and that Guy's work was highly regarded nationally.
Nationally regarded, maybe, but not highly.