The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Monday temporarily blocked the release of two convicted murderers sentenced to life in prison under a 1970s law, issuing an order an hour before they were to be set free.

John H. Connell, the clerk of the Court of Appeals, gave no explanation for the decision.

A Superior Court judge began the day by mandating a 5 p.m. release of convicted murderers Alford Jones and Faye Brown. Gov. Beverly Perdue declared that she was "furious" with the ruling, and attorneys for the state scrambled to petition the higher court for a chance to air their arguments.

"This order will for the first time ever in the history of North Carolina require our Secretary of Correction to unconditionally release an inmate serving a life sentence," wrote Tiare B. Smiley, a special deputy attorney general, in her appeal.

Several dozen inmates sentenced during a period in the 1970s have life terms defined as only 80 years. Attorneys for Jones and Brown argued in court that they also earned a variety of sentence-reduction credits and that their terms are now complete.

State lawyers had argued that the credits awarded to Jones and Brown were to be used for parole eligibility and other matters. They also said the Correction Department has never given sentence-reduction credits to inmates with life sentences.

Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand sided with the inmates, saying the Department of Correction was wrongly interpreting its regulations on sentence-reduction credits. He said the inmates were allowed to and did receive credits that should be applied to the 80-year terms.

"The Department of Correction could have put into effect rules awarding sentence reduction credits only for the purposes of parole eligibility, custody determinations, and sentence commutation calculations and not for the calculation of an unconditional release date," Rand wrote. "It did not."