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5/1/09 - Illinois governor commutes sentence of mom who killed kids

The new Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has commuted the sentence of Debra Lynn Gindorf, a woman some experts believe was suffering from postpartum depression when she killed her two children more than two decades ago. Gindorf, now 45, was found guilty but mentally ill for the 1985 murders of Christina, 23 months and Jason, 3 months. Gindorf was given a sentence of life without parole, but Quinn shortened the sentence to 48 years. In Illinois, she will receive a day of credit for every day she has served under "good conduct" rules and will be eligible for immediate release on parole because she has already served 24 years. The 45-year-old Gindorf was found guilty but mentally ill in the 1985 slayings of 23-month-old Christina and 3-month-old Jason. She tried to kill herself and the children but she survived the blend of alcohol and sleeping pills and woke the next morning beside her dead children. Quinn spokesman Bob Reed declined comment. The Lake County State's Attorney's office had supported clemency for Gindorf. In interviews published in local papers, Gindorf refers to the murder of her children as "the accident."

11/27/08 - Victim's family protests killer's release

The Michigan governor's approval of freeing a 71-year-old former Warren man who has spent 42 years in prison for killing a man is vigorously opposed by the victim's family and Macomb prosecutors. Dante Ferrazza, who was sentenced to life in prison without a chance for parole in 1967, is scheduled to be released from prison in January 2009 after the governor in October endorsed a recommendation from the Parole Board. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith on Monday filed an application to appeal the decision in Macomb County. Ferrazza was convicted of first-degree, premeditated murder along with Harry Whitney, who has since died, for the April 1966 strangling death of Gary Grayvold, 28, of Detroit. The slaying was a gangland-style execution among small-time criminals in which Ferrazza and Whitney abducted Grayvold at gunpoint at Pampa Lanes in Warren, strangled him in a garrote-style execution and dumped his body in a lake at Stony Creek Park (now Metropark) in Washington Township, according to published reports at the time. His body, which had been weighted with two cement blocks, was found May 6 by two Warren High School students at a dam in the park, reports say. Brad Grayvold, 42, one of Gary Grayvold's three sons, and Max Grayvold, 29, Gary Grayvold's brother, told The Macomb Daily this week they are angry and dismayed the governor OK'd Ferrazza's release. Brad Grayvold, an elementary school principal in Norway, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, said he "nearly fell off my chair" when he saw the e-mail informing him of the decision. "It was like a dagger," he said. "He took away something from me that can never be given back. He knew exactly what he was doing. He deserves to die in prison." The Gravolds said they believe Granholm did not read the case or a letter submitted to her by Brad Grayvold because she would have rejected it if she did. Ferrazza had two prior armed robbery convictions and was on parole at the time of the slaying. Max Grayvold of Royal Oak, a business owner in Birmingham, said Ferrazza remains a danger to the community as well as he and Brad, since Ferrazza saw them speak at the Parole Board hearing. "We don't believe the governor was given the right information," Max Grayvold said. "He is a danger to the community. I feel in danger myself. He is 71 years old; that's middle age nowadays. ... Show me one way he will be a contributing member of society." Assistant Macomb prosecutor Robert Berlin argues in the brief seeking the appeal: "The decision constitutes an abuse of discretion based upon the very serious nature of the instant offense and the expectations of society and the victim's family as to the serving of the life sentence." A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8 in front of circuit Chief Judge Richard Caretti. The Attorney General's Office also opposed the release at the parole hearing, the Grayvolds said. Attorney General spokespersons could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Granholm spokeswoman Megan Brown said Wednesday the governor approved Ferrazza's release because he no longer poses a danger to the community. "He's 71 years old. He's served 42 years," she said. Granholm's commutation of the sentence is part of her effort to reduce the cost of and reform the state Department of Corrections, which in recent years has increasingly strained the state budget due to a rising prison population. Granholm this year has approved 40 early releases after approving 18 in her prior five years in office, according to Brown. Candidates must fall into one of three categories — elderly, frail or nonviolent. Ferrazza does have some medical conditions but was considered to be too old to be a threat. He has an exemplary prison record. Brown pointed out the governor only grants a tiny percentage of the "hundreds" of requests for early release each year. The number of applications may have hit 1,000 this year, she said. "We are very meticulous" and consider the clemency requests "very, very seriously," Brown said. John Lasko, the assistant prosecutor who handled the case, submitted a letter to the governor supporting Ferrazza's release, Brown said. Brown said the governor's office invited Brad Grayvold to meet with the governor's legal team but he has not responded. Max Grayvold, who attended much of Ferrazza's trial in 1967 in front of Judge Frank Jeannette, called Ferrazza a "manipulator" and "sociopath" who remains capable of returning to the bad habits of his past. Ferrazza and Whitney fled the state and were arrested in Evanston, Ill, a Chicago suburb, after being suspected of robbing a supermarket there and committing other robberies, according to a published report in 1966. Among other evidence, Ferrazza and Whitney were tied to Grayvold by a similar tattoo all of them had on their ankles — a stick figure of a man that Max Grayvold said appears to be the logo from the TV series "The Saint." Ferrazza's sister argued for her brother's release at the parole hearing in January 2008 in Jackson, the Grayvolds said. Max Grayvold admitted his brother was involved in criminal activity and had two armed robbery convictions but said he was killed because he agreed to cooperate with police in an investigation of a check forgery scheme conducted by the three men. Max Grayvold said he saw his brother the day he went missing. "He told me he was going to meet these guys," he said. "He didn't suspect anything. That day he confided in me he did something wrong." He said he, his brother and a third brother grew up "very poor," and Gary Grayvold probably liked the fast money that can come with criminal activity. But he said his brother was talented and, with his cooperation with police, may have been wishing to become a law abider. "He loved his wife, he liked being a father," Max Grayvold said. "It was tough losing a brother that way. He was physically fit. He was very bright, very witty. He was somebody everybody would like. He wouldn't let anyone bully anyone else." His wife, Gloria Jean, last saw him that day, too, when he left their home on Stout Street in a 1958 Chevy. His wife, now Gloria Jean Holmes, lives in the Upper Peninsula, was pregnant at the time with Brad, and they had two other small boys — Tony, now 46, and John, now 44 — both of whom now also reside in the U.P. Holmes, a U.P. native, moved the family there shortly after the murder. She later married William Holmes, and they had a child, David Holmes. Brad Grayvold, a high school football coach and president of the Michigan Football Coaches Association, vowed he will fight Ferrazza's release like a linebacker pursing a running back. "I will not let this die," he said. Ferrazza had been serving at a prison in the Thumb area but was recently moved to Macomb Correctional Facility in Lenox Township.

 12/25/08 - Bivens family are opposing clemency for man who killed guard in 1978 bank robbery

DECATUR, IL - Family members of Donald L. Bivens Sr., a Decatur bank guard killed in a 1978 robbery, are opposing the executive clemency petition of Cornelius Lewis, the man convicted for the crime. Lewis, 63, is serving a prison sentence of life without parole for shooting Bivens on Dec. 14, 1978, as he, his sister Bernice, Willie Sangster and Maurice Farris took $62,061 from five Citizens National Bank tellers that Bivens was escorting. Farris, driver of the getaway car, cooperated with prosecutors and testified at Lewis' trial that after the robbery, Lewis said the guard went for his gun and "I had to burn him." Lewis, his sister and Sangster were convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated kidnapping. Bivens' sons, Steve and Donald Jr., are opposing Lewis' request to Gov. Rod Blagojevich for clemency as is Macon County State's Attorney Jack Ahola and his first assistant, Richard Current, who prosecuted the case and won the convictions in 1979. A hearing on Lewis' petition is scheduled before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on Jan. 17 in Springfield. A review board spokesman said the board's recommendations are secret and the governor rules on those recommendations at his discretion. "I intend to be there," said Steve Bivens, the late guard's youngest son. "My brother, Don, will try to be there, too. This (petition) came out of the blue. It's been 28 years and it seems like there is no end to it." In a letter to the prisoner review board, Steve Bivens described his shock on Dec. 14, 1978, when his brother called to tell him their father had been killed. He said the call came as he was preparing to take fall semester exams at Illinois State University. "I had listened to what he just told me but it seemed like a dream," Bivens wrote. "Thus a 28-year ordeal started for my family that continues to this day." Bivens' letter continued, "Unlike Cornelius Lewis, my father was an outstanding citizen and a dedicated public servant. He was a police patrolman, a detective, a probation officer and a genuinely highly respected member of the community. He even had the local juvenile center named after him." The letter concluded by asking the board to dismiss Lewis' request for clemency and allow him to remain imprisoned for the rest of his natural life. Current also wrote the prisoner review board a letter opposing Lewis' request. "The evidence (at trial) showed that the defendant was a criminal who was a mercenary," Current wrote. "He was a Minnesotan recruited (by Sangster) to commit a bank robbery in Illinois, a state to which he had no ties." Lewis previously had been convicted of bank robbery in Minnesota and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Current said. Early on Dec. 14, 1978, Lewis and his three accomplices drove to the parking lot of a Decatur day care center, kidnapped a woman who had just dropped off her child, taped her hands and eyes and placed her in the trunk of her car, Current said. That car was used in the robbery with the woman still trapped in the trunk, he said. The quartet drove to the Citizens National Bank, exited the car and went into the bank's parking garage where Bivens was just starting a van holding five female tellers, each with a briefcase full of cash, Current said. Lewis pulled the right hand van door open, leaned in, ordered the tellers to be silent and shot Bivens, who died within a few minutes, Current said. Lewis and his sister took three of the briefcases and fled, he said. "The defendant executed Donald Bivens Sr. for $62,061.32," Current said.

6/5/05 - DR inmate admits to a another murder during escape

An inmate sentenced to death for a killing committed during a 1999 escape has written a letter to a newspaper confessing to another killing. The slaying to which Kenneth D. Williams confessed would make him responsible for the deaths of four people, including a Springfield, Mo., man killed after Williams escaped in 1999. Williams, 26, says in a 5 1/2-page letter to the Pine Bluff Commercial newspaper that he shot and killed Jerrell Jenkins, 36, of Pine Bluff on Dec. 13, 1998, the same day that he fatally shot Dominique Hurd, a cheerleader at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Police had listed Jenkins' death as unsolved. "I take full responsibility for my actions and whatever consequences my peers see fit," Williams wrote. Williams said he was a born-again Christian and wanted to confess his sins. He was convicted of kidnapping and killing Hurd and of kidnapping and assaulting her date. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He escaped on Oct. 3, 1999, while serving that sentence at the Cummins Unit of the state prison system in Lincoln County, Ark. After 57-year-old farmer Cecil Boren was slain at his home near the prison, Williams fled to Missouri in Boren's truck. He was captured near Urbana after an accident that killed Culligan delivery driver Michael Greenwood, 24, of Springfield, Mo. Williams was convicted for Boren's slaying and sentenced to death. He has appealed that verdict. "For a long time I was in denial of the things I had done," Williams wrote. "I couldn't believe it myself. How can someone go five years in denial of something that they obviously did. I have killed or caused the death of four people in my life." The Commercial provided a copy of Williams' letter to police detectives. Police Lt. Terry Hopson and Sgt. Danny Belvedresi met with Williams on Tuesday at the prison system's Varner Supermax Unit near the Cummins unit. Hopson said the inmate declined to make a formal statement in the death of Jenkins, saying only that "the letter to the newspaper spoke for itself." "I wish we would have more people write letters confessing to some of our unsolved homicides," Hopson said, indicating he believed that Williams killed Jenkins. "The bottom line is, I don't think we will have to go looking for a suspect in the Jenkins killing." Hopson said he would discuss with prosecutors whether Williams would be charged in Jenkins' death. Larry A. Sullivan, editor of The Commercial, said it was gratifying that the newspaper "can help solve a homicide, and it appears that may be the case in this instance." Jenkins, whose body was found in a ditch by a youngster walking to school, had been shot to death. Williams claimed in his letter that he killed Jenkins with two shots from a .357-caliber handgun.

1/4/04 - Police hunt for murderer who escaped from Detroit prison

Police continued to search Saturday for a
convicted murderer who escaped from a state prison in Detroit the night before, officials said. Ervin Brown, 41, had been serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and armed robbery at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit, WDIV-TV reported. Leo Lalonde, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Brown escaped sometime Friday night while on a trash detail in a maintenance building. The prisoner shimmied through a crawl space and into another building, then climbed over the prison fence and squeezed through an opening in the razor wire on top of it, Lalonde said. Lalonde said it appears that Brown's small size, about 5 feet, 3 inches and 130 pounds, made the escape possible. Brown's prison sentence stemmed from an attempted armed robbery of a Lansing gas station, in which a person was fatally shot, Lalonde said. Several police agencies were looking for Brown on Saturday night and officers had spoken with his mother who lives in Romulus. She told police she hadn't seen or heard from her son, Lalonde said. Brown has martial arts and survival training and could survive indefinitely in the wilderness without food or water, Lalonde said.

2/19/03 - Jenner-Tyler pleads for parole

PIERRE, SD - A Huron woman's plea for her freedom Tuesday means South Dakota's parole board must decide how much punishment - and how much penitence - is enough to allow a mother out of prison for killing her own daughter. As she did earlier this year to former Gov. Bill Janklow, Debra Jenner-Tyler admitted Tuesday to two parole board members that she stabbed her 3-year-old daughter, Abby Lynn, to death on April 5, 1987, in her Huron home. Janklow reduced Jenner-Tyler's life sentence to 100 years after the admission, making her eligible for parole. Now parole board members Dennis Kaemingk of Mitchell and Cheryl Laurenze-Bogue of Dupree must take the information they heard back to the full parole board Friday in Sioux Falls, where a decision on her request will be made. That answer will be given to Jenner-Tyler, 46, Monday afternoon. While friends and family members portrayed Jenner-Tyler as a model inmate, a good mother to her son, Stuart, and a woman with no history of crime beyond this one incident, Kaemingk and Laurenze-Bogue seemed intent on questioning her about her crime, and about the years she spent denying her involvement. "Did you kill your daughter?" Laurenze-Bogue asked Jenner-Tyler point-blank. "Yes," she quietly replied. "Are any of your supporters here today under the false impression that someone else committed this crime?" Laurenze-Bogue asked. "No," Jenner-Tyler said. Laurenze-Bogue pressed her on what happened in the Jenner house on Frank Avenue in eastern Huron in the early hours of that April day. Jenner-Tyler admitted that she stabbed her daughter again and again with a steel, toy airplane and a kitchen knife as she lay in her bed. "There is a lot I don't remember. I know that I was under a lot of stress. We had been working a lot, and (Abby) had a health problem and wasn't sleeping much. What has been told to me is that what happened was a loss of emotional control at that point, what they call an act of passion." Her lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Terry Pechota of Rapid City, described Jenner-Tyler as being overwhelmed at the time. She was working long hours as a technician at Pioneer Hybrid International in Huron. "And she was married to a husband who was not very forceful," Pechota said. "Abby was very finicky," he continued. "She had not slept for two or three days. It's my opinion that Deb was suffering from postpartum depression at the time. "So emotionally, psychologically, the pressure just took over. I seriously believe she didn't have any intent, but things simply got out of control that night and Abby's life was taken." In hindsight, it would have been better to make those arguments at her trial 15 years ago, Pechota said. Laurenze-Bogue concurred. But both she and Kaemingk voiced concern that Jenner-Tyler denied her guilt for 15 years, that she tried to solicit money on a Web site to help prove her innocence, that she continually insinuated that someone else had killed her daughter, and that her Web site even suggested that police and judges were corrupt. "You had a chance 14 years ago to confess to your supporters and everyone else, but you didn't," Kaemingk said. "When I sit in parole hearings, I want to hear that the inmates have come to grips with the crime they have committed. The rehabilitation starts when you admit to yourself and everyone else what you did. "Our concern now is, you were trying to raise this money out there, and quite frankly, I think it borders on theft by deception." Janet Shafer, Jenner-Tyler's mother, said money raised through solicitations on her daughter's Web site "was a drop in the bucket." In fact, all her legal bills - as much as $200,000 worth - were paid for by Shafer and her husband, Bruce, who are retired school teachers from Huron. "And anybody who gave money would not be wanting to get it back," Janet Shafer said. When Laurenze-Bogue asked Jenner-Tyler why she hadn't come forward with the truth earlier, she replied that until Janklow approached her, she didn't believe a confession would have gotten her out of prison. "The way the system is, when you have life without parole, you appeal and you fight," she said. If paroled now, Jenner-Tyler said she would live with her parents in Pierre. She said she had jobs lined up with the Holiday Inn Express in Fort Pierre, and at Chikadily's Restaurant in Pierre. Her son has a music studio in Pierre as well, and she planned to teach piano to adults there, she said. Jenner-Tyler said she taught math to inmates trying to earn their high school equivalency degrees at the women's prison, and would like to continue that work as a volunteer in the community. She also hoped to work as a suicide-prevention volunteer in Pierre, as she had in prison. Among those who spoke in support of her was her son, who moved from his home in Bartlesville, Okla., before his senior year in high school to be closer to his mother. Jenner, 20, said he plans to go to the Twin Cities to study for youth and music ministries. "I couldn't ask for a better mother than I've got," he told board members. "She's never been violent toward me and never threatened me in any way. It's been that way my entire life." Jenner-Tyler's parents described their only child as a daughter who never caused them a bit of trouble growing up. And they pointed out that she never caused problems in prison. "In fact, she's been a benefit to the place," Bruce Shafer said. Nancy Orsbon, a volunteer chaplain at the women's prison, said she has watched inmates there on lesser charges than Jenner-Tyler fall apart under the pressures of institution life. "It's not easy to have everything stripped away from you," Orsbon said. "But I'm very proud of the work Deb has done in that institution. ... not for herself, but she has given of herself to the administration and to make the lives of these women better. "If Deb were released and had no place to go, I would welcome her with open arms into my home. I would never fear Deb and would entrust my two very dear grandchildren to her." Ruth Bakken, a longtime friend of Jenner-Tyler's who traveled with her husband, Kirby, from Rochester, Minn., said prison has not changed her friend. "Before she came here, she taught Sunday School, played the piano and led the choir," Bakken said. "Now that she's been in prison, she teaches Sunday School, plays the piano and leads the worship service. She's an inspiration to us all." Ruth Bakken, who maintains a Web site with her husband and others in support of Jenner-Tyler, told the board that her research shows that the average prison stay for Americans who committed murder in 1988 was 9 years. But Laurenze-Bogue responded that Jenner-Tyler was imprisoned under South Dakota law, and laws from other states or the federal government don't apply. Former Attorney General Mark Barnett, now chief deputy under the new attorney general, Larry Long, said life sentences "have been cheapened" in some states, in part because of space constraints. "But it doesn't mean we should cheapen it here," Barnett said. He said he was at the hearing to speak for Abby Jenner, and that in his 23 years of prosecuting crimes, "I've yet to see an attack of such incredible violence." "I can only tell you that of all the homicides I have prosecuted, there was only one other that gave me nightmares after looking at the evidence," Barnett said, without elaborating. After giving the parole board members pictures of Abby Jenner after her murder to ponder in their deliberations, Barnett said he was not saying Jenner-Tyler should be required to serve another 15 to 30 years in prison. But the state doesn't believe she should be released now, he added. "I think her punishment started 15 years ago. But I believe her penitence has only just begun," Barnett said. "If these people deceived by her for so many years stand by her side, I think her day of parole will come while we're all still on this planet." Jenner-Tyler insisted that she could follow any rules the parole board placed upon her, including as much intensive scrutiny as it wanted to impose. "This happened 16 years ago," she said. "It was an awful thing, and I grieved over it immensely. What I go through in private, no one knows. "But to me, the greatest act of redemption for Abby's life would be to allow me to be Stuart's mother. We have a very close relationship. As long as I'm here, so is he. As long as I'm still in prison, he's still in prison. He won't leave my side." As she closed the hearing, Laurenze-Bogue gave Jenner-Tyler a sense of the obstacles she faces when she said, "you understand that the nature and seriousness of the crime is a major consideration for us." With a good prison record, Jenner-Tyler would complete her sentence on Sept. 25, 2039, if she is not paroled earlier. But a denial by the parole this time won't deter any of Jenner-Tyler's supporters from coming back and trying again, the Bakkens said afterward. "We'll be back in eight months if we have to," Kirby Bakken said. His wife added: "It doesn't matter whether she confessed or not. The people who know her know her. That's good enough for us."

2/22/03 - Board denies parole for Jenner-Tyler

Pierre, SD - Debra Jenner-Tyler's request to get out of prison was denied Friday by a parole board unconvinced about the Huron woman's remorse in the death of her child 16 years ago. "What's most remarkable to me is, I don't ever remember her during the hearing say that she was sorry," board member Cheryl Laurenze-Bogue said of Jenner-Tyler's appearance at her initial parole hearing Tuesday in Pierre. "She talked about her own suffering," Laurenze-Bogue continued. "She never talked about her daughter's suffering. To be real frank, I didn't feel she was credible. I did not feel that she was remorseful." The full Board of Pardons and Paroles met Friday at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls to consider parole requests made earlier this week by Jenner-Tyler and other inmates. It voted 7-0 to deny her plea. Board member Bob Hofer of Pierre was absent, and board chairman James Sheridan of Huron did not participate because he helped to investigate Jenner-Tyler's crime 16 years ago. She was convicted of second-degree murder in March 1988 for stabbing her 3-year-old daughter, Abby, to death on April 5, 1987, in their Huron home.
Originally given life in prison without parole, she had her sentence cut to 100 years last December by then-Gov. Bill Janklow after she admitted to him in a taped conversation that she had committed the crime. A transcript of that conversation was made available to the parole board. Laurenze-Bogue of Dupree and board member Dennis Kaemingk of Mitchell said they were concerned that a Web site set up to support Jenner-Tyler continued to have links to information suggesting that she was innocent and that others might have committed the murder -Êeven after her recent admission. They also noted that Jenner-Tyler and her supporters had raised roughly $35,000 through the Web site for her appeals and to hire investigators to prove her innocence. And that was on top of almost $200,000 her parents, retired schoolteachers from Huron, have spent on her legal expenses. "I was very concerned because it didn't appear to make any sort of difference that she admitted this after all these years of duping people," Laurenze-Bogue said. But remorse wasn't the only issue of significance to the board. Members also talked about pictures they had seen of Abby Jenner's body after she had been stabbed 70 times. "It absolutely turned my stomach," board member Jerome Lammers of Madison said. "I can't begin to comprehend something like that." Laurenze-Bogue said Jenner-Tyler's explanation for the murder was that she had gone into her daughter's bedroom to console a fussy child. When Abby Jenner would not be consoled and simply clung to her mother, Jenner-Tyler supposedly snapped. "To be real honest, this is not a case where a person lost her temper, and a child fell off the bed and struck her head," Laurenze-Bogue said. "Once you've viewed the pictures, there is absolutely no way that this was a crime that was a momentary loss of control. "In her own words in the transcript, this occurred over a real long time. She admitted that she went from the bedroom after striking her with the toy airplane, went to the kitchen and got a knife, and then went back. She even admitted that she cleaned it all up afterward, then went back to her bedroom and went to sleep." Told afterward of the board's decision, a lifelong friend of the 46-year-old Jenner-Tyler expressed her disappointment. "But I'm not surprised," said Ruth Bakken of Rochester, Minn. "We've been running into a brick wall for 15 years." Bakken said Jenner-Tyler has lots of family and friends who still believe in her innocence. "Some of us were at the parole board hearing, and we heard Deb say she was guilty," Bakken said. "We know that Deb had to choose between maintaining her innocence and a chance to be reunited with her loved ones." Meanwhile, Attorney General Larry Long said his office "was delighted" with Friday's decision. "I think the parole board properly considered the fact that she has misrepresented the truth now for 15, 16 years," Long said. "An old judge told me a long time ago ... he said that admitting your guilt and confessing your sins is the first step toward rehabilitation. It's not the last step. After 15 years, she has taken the first step." Asked after Friday's hearing what Jenner-Tyler would have to do now to earn parole, Kaemingk shook his head and said, simply, "time is an issue." She can seek parole again in eight months. If she is never paroled, Jenner-Tyler would finish her sentence on Sept. 25, 2039, with good behavior.

10/29/98 - Man again sentenced to death in '92 slaying

RENO, NV -- A man who earlier escaped a death sentence on appeal has been sentenced again to die for a 1992 killing. His attorney said he will appeal again. A Washoe District Court jury deliberated about four hours Tuesday before choosing death for Melvin Geary. His public defender, Steve Gregory, asked unsuccessfully for a mishearing because Deputy District Attorney Egan Walker said Geary had chosen death. District Judge Margaret Springgate rejected the motion, and Gregory said he would appeal. Geary had faced death for stabbing 71-year-old Edward Colvin of Sparks with a boning knife after Colvin took him in. The sentence was reversed by the state Supreme Court, which found an error in the penalty hearing and ordered the new hearing. Geary served 13 years of a life sentence for the stabbing death of a Las Vegas woman in 1973, again with a boning knife. He was freed after the state Parole Board commuted his sentence from life without parole to life with parole.

5/28/02 - Death row inmate dies after stroke

Melvin Geary, who was sentenced to death for a 1992 murder in Reno soon after his parole for a 1974 murder, died Sunday at a prison near Indian Springs after suffering a stroke. Geary, 71, died shortly before noon at the High Desert State Prison infirmary north of Las Vegas, prison spokesman Glen Whorton said. He suffered the stroke last week at the Ely State Prison and was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas. He was sent Saturday to the prison near Indian Springs. "His medical situation was serious enough that they didn't expect him to recover. This was essentially expected," Whorton said. Geary was sentenced to death by injection for the 1992 stabbing death of roommate Edward Colvin of Reno, who took Geary in after he had lost a job. Geary previously was sentenced to life without parole for the 1974 stabbing death of Annette Morris in Las Vegas. He was paroled three times from that sentence, but each time was arrested for drinking and imprisoned again. After serving a total of 13 years, he was paroled a fourth time and a month later was arrested for Colvin's murder. Colvin's killing led to a death sentence for Geary, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the sentence in 1996. In 1998, a new Washoe District Court penalty hearing resulted in another death sentence. After that, Geary appealed unsuccessfully to the Nevada Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court.

5/24/02 - Paying for life - They seek a bipartisan study of the costs and alternatives.

PENNSYLVANIA - The number of inmates sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania skyrocketed almost 650 percent in the last 30 years. As they age, the medical costs for those 3,718 people will soar as well. Medical care for elderly inmates cost $20 million last year. In eight years, as the elderly population rises, those health care costs will rise to at least $52 million, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said. And that’s without adjusting the numbers for inflation. “Pennsylvania is one of the few states with life without parole,” Beard said. “Because of Pennsylvania laws, even if the prison population stops growing, the lifers will not. There is no question they will get ill and cost a lot of money.” Dr. Frederick Maue, chief of clinical services for Pennsylvania corrections, told legislators in April 2000 that the state has a constitutional duty to deliver health care to inmates that is consistent with community standards. Such thoughts led the state Senate to vote March 25 for a bipartisan task force to study the future costs of health care and alternatives to long-term imprisonment. House action is expected in June. “Now, it can cost $75,000 to $80,000 a year to keep them (older inmates) in prison,” said state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, who introduced the resolution. ”Are there less expensive alternatives that could deal with this, assuming they are not violent or a risk to society?” For a hint of the future, consider that state prisons hold 1,892 inmates 55 years of age or older, with the oldest being 92. In the last three years, geriatric inmates increased three times faster than the total population, Beard told legislators in February. Imprisonment speeds up the effects of aging, said Catherine McVey, director of the Bureau of Health Care Services for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Older inmates who need help with bathing, dressing, grooming, eating and using the commode often remain in their prison infirmary. Those who need long-term skilled nursing care are permanently moved to Laurel Highlands or to a unit at Waymart state prison in Wayne County. Laurel Highlands, in Somerset County, opened in 1996 with 85 beds for the sickest of the sick. A $23 million expansion provided space for the long-term health care of 253 inmates, McVey said. The care of an old or seriously ill inmate averages $203 a day compared to $78 for the average inmate. State Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Camp Hill, said he voted for the task force study because of his vantage as chairman of the health and welfare committee. ”We need to look at geriatric care and the lifer population,” Mowery said. “Maybe we can treat them better outside rather than in prison. It costs a lot of money to keep our elderly prisoners. Why are we keeping elderly prisoners? Perhaps we could take that load off the taxpayer.” State Sen. Shirley M. Kitchen, D-Philadelphia, said lifers who pose no threat to society could be released to some setting where they might wear electronic monitors and receive the medicine they require. It would surely cost less than imprisonment, she said. “If they had some freedom, they may not require so much treatment,” Kitchen said. Their numbers are vast, Kitchen said, so they cannot be shoved in a corner and overlooked. ”We have to know more about these people to plan what is best for society and what is best for them,” Kitchen said. John F. Nole, 50, originally of Philadelphia, was convicted of murder at age 17 and sentenced to life without parole. His robbery victim died of a heart attack during the crime. Nole figures he entered prison with the equivalent of a fifth-grade education. While working to improve himself, he found a zest for education. He has won community awards, served as a teacher’s aide and a tutor, led programs on decision-making and life skills, and delivers a monthly sermon. He said he has done everything possible to rehabilitate himself to be fit to join his wife and family. “I am very tired, because I don’t want to be in jail any more,” Nole wrote recently from Greene state prison in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania . “I don’t think I should be in jail any more. I have almost 33 years of incarceration.” Aging in prison is a frightening experience, Nole wrote. His maturity is no match for the hot-headed violent young men he must share a cell with. “If they ever decide to retire me, a gold watch would be nice, but a single cell would be much more practical,” Nole wrote. “Better yet, how about a moment of true forgiveness for my immature mistakes and earthly sins?” Some of the people serving life sentences would not hurt a fly, said attorney Ernie Preate, an advocate for prison reform. It’s going to be a tremendous financial problem, he said, because “they get sicker and sicker quicker.” Pennsylvania will lack the money for children’s health care, education and senior citizens programs if alternatives are not found for long-term imprisonment, Preate said. Preate, a former Pennsylvania attorney general, was sentenced in 1995 to 14 months in a federal prison for mail fraud related to contributions during his 1994 gubernatorial campaign. Once a law-and-order prosecutor, he now lobbies for inmate advocacy groups. “Is it worthwhile to keep these people imprisoned?” Preate asked. “Could we put them in veteran’s hospitals, or create new halfway houses, or send them back with their families?” Other states have similar concerns, said Joe Weedon, spokesman for the American Correctional Association.  "Inmate populations are aging,” Weedon said. “It’s an issue that is coming up across the country. States are looking for the most cost-effective ways to provide the services older inmates will need.” He doubted the Veteran’s Administration would want to invest in making its hospitals secure for prisoners. Some states are considering the use of halfway houses and probation for inmates who no longer present a threat to society, Weedon said. That has been the practice in New Jersey, said Deirdre Fedkenheuer, spokeswoman for New Jersey corrections. But that will change, because legislators in 2000 added the sentence of life without parole, so only those inmates sentenced before that can be released to halfway houses and supervised parole. The February release of 64-year-old Thomas Trantino created quite a stir, Fedkenheuer said. “People lobbied something fierce because he had killed two police officers,” Fedkenheuer said. The parole board had rejected his release nine times, believing he might be a risk to the community, she said. His attorney argued that 38 years in prison was long enough and that his client presented no danger. Trantino spent time in a halfway house and remains under parole supervision. The last prison built in New Jersey in 1997 includes a 64-bed, extended-care unit for seriously ill inmates, Fedkenheuer said. It has breathing apparatus and dialysis machines. Sixty inmates were housed in the unit in May.  Illinois has not given the aging inmate issue any time, said Nic Howell, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections. Unlike Pennsylvania, Illinois does not house aging or terminally ill inmates in a special prison. “One prison has a dandy infirmary, which takes care of 80 or more inmates who are 55 years or older,” Howell said. Florida corrections published a report on elderly inmates in 1999 that states a long-term inmate’s physical age averages 11½ years more than their chronological age. “The worry, feelings of disgrace, monotonous diet and environment, and lack of stimulating work that come with incarceration exacerbate inmates’ medical health problems,” according to the report. “As they physically and psychologically deteriorate from long years of imprisonment, elderly offenders become pessimistic about their future. Many fear dying in prison.” First Assistant District Attorney Tom Kelley of York said he favors lowering costs, but must consider other issues. “One must not forget this is punishment,” Kelley said. “You are sentenced to life for a reason. And so, there are certain costs we must pay.” Kelley said ailing, elderly lifers released or transferred to private or publicly funded hospitals would still “be wards of the state, and the public still pays those costs.” He suggested the creation of more geriatric prison alternatives for lifers with serious health problems. “You could still maintain a correctional posture but in a less restrictive environment,” Kelley said. “You could have a higher inmate-employee (guard) ratio, because they would be less of a flight risk, but still maintain the safety of the community.” State prison education and rehabilitation programs would be superfluous for bed-ridden or dying inmates and could be cut, he said. The suggestion of early release for ailing inmates not serving life sentences could be dealt with by the parole board, Kelley said. Prison systems across the nation face the same spiraling costs. Beard asked legislators to approve a $1.3 billion budget for the year 2002-2003. That’s 11.2 percent higher than the year before. Long, mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes are swelling the prison population, Beard said. Also, more people are being returned for minor parole violations. Nationally, the cost of running prisons in 2001 reached $50 billion, said Allen Beck, chief of statistics for the U.S. Department of Justice. That sum covered 2.7 million prisoners. The nation has reached the high-water mark for making tougher laws with longer sentences, Beck said. "We have cut the volume of people coming in for a short time and increased those serving 10 or more years,” Beck said. “That is the effect of draconian sentences. We estimate 5 percent in prison today will never get out. Their numbers will grow and come to represent a higher proportion of the population.” The costs of their care will rise as state budgets are being squeezed. Legislators will look at drawing revenue from their prison budgets, Beck predicted. Rather than closing prisons, as some states have done, Beck said he expects states to look for ways to divert offenders from prisons and to revoke fewer paroles. "They will use sanctions other than the high price of incarceration,” Beck said.

3/31/02 - State parole board drops proposal to change policy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- The state Pardon and Parole Board has dropped a proposed policy change that could have made some life-without-parole inmates eligible for release. In a prepared statement, Board Chairwoman Stephanie Chappelle said Friday the board withdrew the policy from its list of ''special consideration applications'' for early parole. The board's policy was designed to create a process to address a loophole in the life-without-parole law. Inmates sentenced to life without parole are not eligible for parole under state law, but a 1987 law does allow these inmates to apply for clemency. Dan Mahoney, spokesman for Gov. Frank Keating, said the governor agreed with the board's recent decision. ''Life without parole has to mean just that -- life without parole -- and we should not make it any easier for those serving life without parole to have their sentences commuted. So the governor is pleased that the board did the right thing.'' J.D. Daniels, parole board assistant director, said public reaction to the policy had a lot to do with its demise. ''A lot of people, especially the victims' families, were upset it was on the application process,'' Daniels said. The policy set down several guidelines in which inmates serving life without parole could apply for clemency. Life-without-parole inmates would not be eligible to apply if they'd already been considered for clemency within 12 months of applying. Inmates cited with misconduct within 12 months of applying also would not be eligible. Although the policy is off the books, the board will discuss it again in April, said board member Currie Ballard. Only once in its history has the Pardon and Parole Board recommended a change for a life-without-parole inmate, officials said. In August 2000, the board voted 3-2 to commute Cathy Sue Lamb's life-without-parole sentence to a life sentence. Lamb was convicted of the 1991 Le Flore County murder of Darrell Lovell. Keating rejected the recommendation.  (Note: Oklahoma now has a new governor.)

3/7/02 - Loophole may let 'life without parole' inmates out of jail

OKLAHOMA CITY - Some victim rights advocates are outraged over a legal loophole. There is a little know provision that allows Oklahoma prisoners who are serving life sentences, to apply for early release. Prisoners who've served 15 years can now fill out this one page application and submit it to the parole board. Officials say it is unlikely they'll be granted early release but some believe the provision creates an unnecessary loophole. It was two weeks before Christmas 1999. That's when 71-year-old Joe Sherer was found beaten to death inside his Oklahoma City automotive shop. His son Larry remembers hearing the heartbreaking news. “On Sunday, I saw his body for the first time. I couldn't believe anybody would do that kind of damage to my father.” The Sherer family received some solace when the attacker was sentenced to life in prison without parole. At least that's what they thought. “You do feel, ‘Now we can close this chapter and we can move forward.’ But as I've heard, you can never close that chapter because it always comes back to haunt you,” he said. There is a little known provision on the books allowing Oklahoma inmates to apply for a lesser punishment. After serving just 15 years this "application for special consideration" can now be submitted to the parole board. "I think there is a lot of misunderstanding. People hear ‘life without parole’ and they think ‘You will never get out of prison.’ 99% of the time it does mean that. But the statute does allow for that possibility,” he said. State officials say the odds of an early release are slim. But victim rights advocates call the provision a dangerous loop-hole. And folks like Larry are fighting to make a life sentence exactly that! “They never explained this could possibly happen. It makes you a victim all over again,” he said. “The words ‘life without parole’ explain the punishment. I think it means life in prison without the possibility of parole!”

3/1/01 - Murderer slips Oregon prison

Two inmates, including one serving a life sentence for murder, escaped prison Wednesday after cutting a hole in a perimeter fence. One has been recaptured. The murderer remained at large, while the other, a convicted rapist, was captured after the escape from the Snake River Correctional Institution. Oregon State Police and Malheur County sheriff's deputies were searching the area for Lee John Knoch, 23, convicted in 1998 on five counts of aggravated murder and charges of assault kidnapping, theft by extortion and harassment. He was convicted of murdering Robert Holliday, 30, to keep Holliday from testifying against him in a torture case in which Holliday was the victim. Holliday was brutalized and buried alive in March 1997, just days before Knoch's trial was to begin. Knoch was serving a life sentence without parole. The other inmate, Aaron O'Hara, 23, was caught by an officer patrolling the roads outside of the prison, said Perrin Damon, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. O'Hara is serving a six-year sentence for sodomy, sex abuse and two counts of rape.

11/21/00 - A Second Chance

Honolulu, HI - Eighteen years ago, Sitoe Liuafi was sentenced to life without parole for the "horrible" murder of another Hawaii State Prison inmate. He may still walk out of prison. The Hawaii Paroling Authority has prepared an application and is expected to make a recommendation on whether the governor should commute Liuafi's sentence to life with the possibility of parole.  His brother, Liuafi Liuafi, faces the same dispensation. A commutation is a reduction in punishment exercised by the governor and is usually sought for inmates serving life without parole. Under Hawaii law, a defendant serving a life term without parole receives an automatic review by the governor after serving 20 years. The Liuafi brothers were convicted 18 years ago, but were credited for time served while awaiting trial. The governor has inherent power and total discretion under the Constitution to grant commutations and pardons, said Honolulu criminal attorney Earle Partington. The Legislature can't alter that power even if it wants to. The power to commute or pardon -- inherited from England -- has survived this long because of its usefulness, he said. Commutations are a good thing, Partington said, because they factor in the possibility that people can reform in prison. "It prevents the (criminal justice) system from being too harsh because of the inflexibility built into the system," he said. Legal observers say commutations are extremely rare and highly unlikely for defendants such as multiple murderer Byran Uyesugi. Four inmates serving life without parole who have come up for commutation in the last 10 years have been denied. But commutations are possible, for example, if the inmate has developed an "extraordinary" record in prison, said Patrick Cullen, head of the attorney general's investigations division that reviews the applications forwarded to them by the parole board. Inmates must show they are deserving of a reduced sentence. They must exhibit some type of exemplary behavior leading up to the time of the application or be free of disciplinary actions, Cullen said. One of the foremost factors considered is the likelihood of the inmate re-offending and posing a danger to society if released early, he said. Each application is treated on a case-by-case basis. Sitoe Liuafi was 31 years old when he and five fellow inmates were accused in the June 6, 1980, stabbing and gang-related beating death of fellow inmate Milton Nihipali. Nihipali was attacked in the prison recreation yard by a gang of prisoners using pipes, knives, sticks and the cast iron base of a microphone stand, and his throat was slit. Another inmate, Clarence Freitas III, also was beaten in the melee, but survived. Convicted of first-degree murder in Nihipali's death were Sitoe Liuafi; his older brother, Liuafi Liuafi Jr., 32; Lepo T. Utu, 22, who later changed his name to Lepo Taliese; Sopo Faalafua, 23; and Fiatau Mika, 25. All five were sentenced to life in prison without parole - the stiffest sentence possible. Mel Agena, the deputy who prosecuted five of the inmates and is now in private practice, said the Nihipali beating was the worst he had seen in his life as a prosecutor. Photographs of Nihipali after the beating were "indescribable," Agena recalled. "It was horrible." The beating allegedly stemmed from the shooting death of inmate Francis Scott Key just the day before. Police described Key's death as being part of an ongoing feud between prison factions. Nihipali was later found responsible for Key's murder. While conditions have improved since then, the prison at that time was loosely run, with inmates allegedly running the facility, said deputy prosecutor Kevin Takata, who later supported a commutation for Faalafua. Utu and Faalafua were granted commutations by then-Gov. John Waihee in November 1994 based on new information that they were not in the area of the beating when it happened. Despite the brutality of Nihipali's beating, Agena said he has no problems with the commutation process as long as the inmate has served the statutory requirement of 20 years. He has no knowledge of Sitoe Liuafi's conduct in prison for the past 20 years, but said, "if he's turned his life around and the Hawaii Paroling Authority recommends it, I have no objections." One member of the Nihipali family contacted recently said they laid their brother to rest 20 years ago and bear no bitterness toward those who served time for his death. "God bless them," said Gina Nihipali, one of Milton Nihipali's 10 siblings, when she heard the Liuafis were being considered for a reduction in their sentences.  Twenty years is a long time to spend in jail, she said. "I pray they go on with their lives, too." She blames a "corrupt" prison system and politics, not the inmates, for her brother's death. The guards, not inmates, ran the facility and should have been investigated, she said. Public Safety Director Ted Sakai, who joined the department just a year before the Nihipali murder, declined to respond to Gina Nihipali's characterization of the prison system 20 years ago. Despite the overcrowding, staff at the prisons today work hard to ensure security is enforced, he said. "We have sound security procedures and we try very hard to keep contraband out." Sakai said Hawaii's prisons now are run by a professional group of wardens. Inmates are classified into different facilities and housing units. Prison staff conduct regular searches of cells, visitors and incoming parcels to ensure contraband doesn't get in. Recently, the prisons purchased portable metal detectors to search inmates to ensure they don't have any metal tools hidden on their bodies when they move from one area in the prison to another. Inmates also are drug-tested regularly. "Inmates will try constantly, so we make sure procedures are enforced all the time," Sakai said. The Liuafi brothers and Mika, who will face a commutation review in the near future, are all currently being housed at the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona.

7/3/00 - Oklahoma board might commute sentence of life

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - The state Pardon and Parole Board plans for the first time to consider commuting a sentence of life without parole. The board is scheduled in August to consider a clemency request on behalf of Cathy Sue Lamb of Le Flore County. Lamb, 48, was convicted of first-degree murder for the April 2, 1991, shooting death of a man in Bokoshe. In a November 1998 letter to Gov. Frank Keating, then-Le Flore County District Attorney Mike Sullivan said he thought Lamb's sentence was too harsh. Lamb's attorney, Joe Brett Reynolds, wants Lamb's sentence commuted to life with the possibility of parole, records show. But others oppose a commuted sentence, which would allow Lamb to apply for parole in 2006 after serving 15 years of her sentence. "It would set a dangerous precedent," Dianne Barker Harrold, president of the state District Attorneys Council, said in a copyright story in The Sunday Oklahoman. Carol Lovell, whose son, Darrell, was killed by Lamb, said she was startled by the news of the hearing. "It would upset you, wouldn't it, if somebody sat and killed your son in cold blood, and half the people in town saw it happen and everything else," Lovell said. Parole board member Patrick Morgan said he sought the clemency hearing because of special circumstances, including Sullivan's letter. A majority of board members can recommend commuting Lamb's sentence, but the governor has the final say. A spokesman for Keating said the governor would "be very thorough in examining the case before granting clemency to anyone." The board has held 22 clemency hearings for death row inmates since Oklahoma resumed the death penalty in 1990 but denied clemency in each case. The sentence of life without parole was created by a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in 1985. A parole board report states that Lamb and her boyfriend, Chris Neilson, were customers at the Why Not Bar in Bokoshe but were kicked out after Neilson and another customer got into a fight. Neilson heard a group laughing across the street, reportedly about a different matter, and assumed they were laughing at him, the report states. A shouting match ensued. The victim crossed the street toward Neilson, according to the report. Lamb pulled a .25-caliber handgun from her purse and fired one shot in the air. The victim pushed her aside and turned toward Neilson. The report states witnesses said Lamb then shot the victim in the face.

8/23/00 - Jury's sentence shouldn't be questioned

Just when we thought life in prison without the possibility of parole means what it says, the state's Pardon and Parole Board has found an exception. Board members voted Tuesday that Cathy Sue Lamb deserves a chance at freedom as early as 2006, after she's served 15 years in prison for killing Darrell Lovell in 1991. The recommendation was forwarded to Gov. Frank Keating for his consideration. Lamb, now 48, says she's sorry for shooting Lovell, 23, outside a LeFlore County bar. Her former prosecutor, Mike Sullivan, now thinks her sentence was too harsh. Her attorney, Joe Brett Reynolds, notes her good behavior in prison and rehabilitation as a Christian counselor, paralegal and artist. But those aren't good enough reasons to nullify the 12 jurors who decided her crime warranted a full lifetime in prison. No one should be able to second-guess the scrutiny they gave the case at the time. Those who think Lamb should go free one day ought to look at changing the law that gives jurors the sentencing option they chose. As long as a person is serving time in jail for a crime, it shouldn't matter how a criminal reinvents himself in prison. The jail time is the consequence for the crime; the rehabilitation will serve him if he ever gets released or meets his creator at death. Under the law, Lamb received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Those words ought to mean what they say; Lamb shouldn't go free. Lamb might regret her actions that turned a woman into a widow and left her to raise a son alone. We do, too. And it's encouraging to see how far she's come since that day. But we'd feel more regret if state officials decide to toss out a state law and overturn a jury's verdict in order to release a murderer whose guilt has not been questioned.

10/13/00 - Keating rejects commutation

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- Gov. Frank Keating on Thursday turned down a recommendation that he commute the life prison sentence of convicted killer Cathy Sue Lamb. Keating rejected a recommendation by the state Pardon and Parole Board that Lamb's sentence of life without parole be commuted to life with the possibility of parole. The board recommended commutation for Lamb by a vote of 3-2 last month. "There is no manifest injustice and it would be inappropriate to follow the recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board," Keating said. Keating's action was applauded by the Homicide Survivors Support Group and Victims of Violent Crime. The groups said victims throughout the state were appalled that the board had even considered Lamb's request. The mother of Lamb's victim has sued the board and its chairwoman, Susan Bussey, for recommending commutation of Lamb's life sentence without parole. Lamb, 48, was convicted of first-degree murder for the April 2, 1991, shooting death of 23-year-old Darrell Lovell. Lovell was shot in the head outside a LeFlore County bar. Lamb said she had been kicked out of the bar and fired one warning shot into the air to prevent other bar patrons from following her and her boyfriend. Lamb said Lovell again pushed her, and the gun discharged.

9/2/00 - Bill would keep commuted prisoners from being paroled

MONTGOMERY, AL. - The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate wants to make sure that a woman convicted of killing a 13-year-old girl is never released from prison, even though her death sentence was commuted by former Gov. Fob James. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said he plans to introduce a bill in the next session of the Legislature that would require that a death row inmate, who receives a last minute commutation from the governor, must spend the remainder of his or her life in prison. Barron said he wants the bill to be retroactive to keep Judith Ann Neelley in prison for the rest of her life. Neelley was convicted of the kidnapping and murder in 1982 of 13-year-old Lisa Ann Millican, who was injected with drain cleaner, shot and dumped into Little River Canyon, not far from Barron's home in DeKalb County. "This is to prevent any governor from allowing a convicted murderer to be paroled back into society," Barron said. He said the case is an emotional one for his constituents in northeast Alabama, who don't understand why James commuted Neelley's sentence. "That was just a little 13-year-old girl she killed. People up there feel like she doesn't need to be back in society," Barron said. Barron said he has drafted the bill and plans to introduce it during next year's regular session of the Legislature if he is re-elected. Barron faces Republican David Hammonds in the Nov. 5 general election. James commuted Neelley in such a way that her sentence reverted to life in prison under a 1950 Alabama law concerning commuted sentences. Alabama's current death penalty law only allows for two sentences for those convicted of capital murder - death or life in prison without parole. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled last month that Neelley will not be eligible for parole for 12 years. Neelley had asked Reese to rule that she be eligible for immediate consideration for parole. Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor said he will support the bill. "In a capital case, once found guilty the defendant is only eligible for two punishments. If the governor wants to exercise his power to commute a death sentence, the other choice should kick in," Pryor said. State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, chairs the Judiciary Committee, which would consider the bill if it made its way to the Alabama House. "I would be in favor of that," Black said. "If you were tried for a capital offense the only possible results were death or life without parole. Certainly the governor or anyone else should not be able to given a sentence less than what the judge or jury imposed."

5/31/00 - Killer of Las Vegas secretary could be freed in September

CARSON CITY, NV -- Jack Rainsberger, once sentenced to death for killing a Las Vegas secretary, may be released from prison in September. The state Parole Board said Tuesday that Rainsberger, 64, recently made his 20th appearance before the panel and was tentatively approved for release despite opposition from the victim's son. Rainsberger has been in prison since March 1959 for the murder of Erline Folker. His release was opposed by Edward Folker, who says his mother's killer should stay behind bars for the rest of his life. The release would be allowed only if Rainsberger is accepted in a residential program in Ohio. He tried the same thing in 1993, but the parole was rescinded after a halfway house in San Francisco decided against accepting him. In 1972, Rainsberger's death penalty was commuted to life in prison without possible parole because of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating capital punishment laws. The state Pardons Board in 1977 agreed to cut the sentence again so Rainsberger could eventually seek parole. - Guestbook for murder victims memorial page
Signer_FullName: Edward R. Folker
Date: Saturday, January 03, 2004
Time: 07:49 PM

My prayers are with the Ertman and Pena families. Too many times the victim(s) have no voice and that needs to change. We need to stand together for the victims and never let the memory of the victims whose lives were taken by these monsters die or allow their lives to become insignificant to the bleeding heart liberals of this world, as they petition and protest on behalf of these monsters. My own mother was brutally murdered in 1958 at the young age of 24. The killer Jack Rainsberger was sentenced to die, but that was when capital punishment was abolished and the court over turned the sentence to life without parole, but after serving 42 years in prison was released.

9/28/99 - A life without parole may not be spent in prison

New York - Child killer Tracy Irwin avoided a death penalty trial by pleading guilty to her 3-year-old son's torture death. The plea deal includes a sentence of life without parole, but there's no guarantee that she will never be free again. The Bloomingburg mother who beat and tortured her son to death over a piece of candy will spend the rest of her life behind prison walls. Maybe. Laws change, politicians leave office and nothing in the criminal justice system comes with a guarantee. Tracy Irwin's life without parole sentence is a far cry from the certainty of the torture death of her 3-year-old son, Christopher Gardner. A Kingston child killer took a deal similar to Irwin's three years ago: He pleaded guilty to avoid a possible death sentence and received a sentence of life without parole. He's since been back in court arguing that his rights were violated and that he should be eligible for parole in 11 years. Top courts have yet to decide if he's right. That man, Larry Whitehurst, kidnapped a 7-year-old girl Sept. 21, 1995, raped her, sodomized her and smashed her skull in with a rock. He even told cops he wouldn't show them where she was hidden unless they promised him a maximum 15 years in prison before being eligible for parole. Prosecutors dumped that deal and instead sought the death penalty against him. He pleaded guilty in exchange for life without parole. But even with that plea, the man who prosecuted Whitehurst can't tell the girl's parents that their child's killer will never again be a free man. "I can never be convinced of that," said Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams. "Nothing in the criminal justice system is guaranteed." New York re-enacted a death penalty law Sept. 1, 1995, for first-degree murder cases. Before then the maximum penalty in the state was 25 years before being eligible for parole. The new law also allowed for a sentence of life without parole. "It's absolutely life without any possibility of parole. If it wasn't I would have never gone along with the sentence. That's the bottom line to me," said Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen, who personally prosecuted Irwin. Parole may not be a factor for Irwin's future, but appeals and clemency cannot be ruled out. Whitehurst, who was the state's first death penalty defendant under the new law, also waived his right to appeal when he pleaded guilty. But that's not stopping his issues from being heard by a panel of judges. "Any case can still result in an appeal. An appeal is the right of the defendant," said Dutchess County defense lawyer William Tendy. But, "It's unlikely appeals from pleas will be successful." Last year, Tendy represented killer Dalkeith McIntosh in a death penalty trial. McIntosh was convicted of murdering his wife and her sister, and of trying to kill his wife's young son. The jury spared him lethal injection, however, and sentenced him to life without parole. Jurors in capital murder cases decide the punishment. In such trials defense lawyers try to convince jurors the life without parole sentence is just as final as the death penalty. Montclair, New Jersey, lawyer David Ruhnke had a difficult time with that when jurors learned Ellenville killer Tyrone Walker had stabbed a jail guard during an escape attempt in Binghamton. Both Ruhnke and his wife, Jean Barrett, represent capital cases in New Jersey and in federal courts. Barrett grew up in Middletown. "It's certainly unfair to argue that life without parole is not really life, because it is," she said. "Hopefully our federal correction facilities are less porous than the Broome County Jail. He didn't escape anyway, he didn't get out. The reality is he's not a threat to people on the outside." In New Jersey there is no life without parole sentence. The maximum allowed, after death penalty, is 30 years before being eligible for parole. Barrett said she feels that entices jurors to vote for capital punishment, just to ensure finality. But even a death sentence doesn't always guarantee final judgment. A local cop killer, once sentenced to death, lived to see New York do away with capital punishment and bided his time until he gained enough favor within certain circles for a governor to grant him clemency. Gary McGivern, sentenced to death in 1969 for killing a cop in Ulster County, was later granted clemency by then-Governor Mario Cuomo in 1986. He was paroled in 1989, after serving 21 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence. Former Ulster County District Attorney Michael Kavanagh, who prosecuted that case, uses McGivern's release to argue against life sentences and for the death penalty for killers. Since 1995, eleven men have received life without parole sentences in deals to avoid a possible death sentence. There are five men currently on death row in the state. When she is sentenced, Irwin will be the third woman in the state to receive the life without parole penalty. But she's the first to accept the sentence rather than go through with a death penalty trial. Still, questions linger about what she will ultimately face. "It's like trying to predict the apocalypse," Barrett said. "Nobody can say what's going to happen and what's not going to happen absolutely." Lungen, though, is "confident that (Irwin) will spend the rest of her natural life in prison." And that, one lawyer said, is just as good as a death sentence. "I think whatever horror stories you hear about a prison are as appropriate to a woman's facility as they are to a man's," Tendy said. "Prison just ain't a great place to be. No matter how anyone tries to sugar coat it, it's hell, shear hell. And life without parole is hell on earth, that's the bottom line."

9/13/99 - More lengthy life terms mean aging inmates

Tennessee prosecutors are happy that a life prison sentence for murder now means pretty much what it says -- at least 51 years behind bars before any possibility of release. "Murder first degree is the most serious crime you can commit," said Tom Thurman, Davidson County deputy district attorney. "In the past, the penalty hasn't been that serious." But those lengthy sentences, in effect since 1995, raise the prospect of thousands of elderly inmates occupying prison space, and requiring costly medical care, long after the years in which they're likely to be a threat to public safety. And they call into question the need for the separate sentence of life without the possibility of parole, which the legislature created in 1993 as an alternative to the death penalty in "aggravated" cases of first-degree murder. "Fifty-one years is life without parole for most people," Metro Public Defender Karl Dean said last week. "How much do we want to pay for locking these people up? Once they get to be 60 years old, do we want to keep them there for another 20 years?" The actual length of a "standard" life prison sentence, for most inmates, has gone from 19 years to 25 years to 51 years in the past decade, in response to public concern about crime and skepticism about the courts and the correctional system. The biggest jump came in 1995, when the General Assembly enacted newly elected Gov. Don Sundquist's proposal that people convicted of any of 11 violent felonies serve at least 85% of their sentences. They would then be released without parole supervision. Until 1995, most inmates became eligible for release on parole after serving 30% of a given sentence. The 1995 statute did not specify how long a person sentenced to life for first-degree murder would have to serve. (That is the only crime that carries a life sentence under current state law.) But judges and prison officials are following an opinion issued by the state attorney general's office in July 1997, which said the 85% release formula should be applied to 60 years, the figure that a 1989 rewrite of Tennessee's sentencing laws set as the upper limit for sentence calculations. That amounts to 51 years. The Correction Department now houses 1,167 people -- convicted of murder, kidnapping, aggravated rape, especially aggravated robbery and other violent offenses since 1995 -- who will have to serve 85% of their sentences before they will be eligible for release. The Tennessee prison system's total population, including people serving state prison sentences in county jails, is about 22,000 -- double the number incarcerated 10 years ago. Two hundred twenty people have been sentenced to the state prisons for first-degree murder since the 85% rule took effect in July 1995, said Correction Department spokeswoman Pam Hobbins. They will have to spend at least 51 years behind bars before they can become eligible for release on parole. An additional 252 people have been ordered to serve 85% of sentences for second-degree murder since July 1995. Most of them received sentences of 15-25 years. There are now 100 inmates -- 98 men and two women -- awaiting execution for first-degree murder in Tennessee prisons, and 117 convicted murderers serving sentences of life without parole. About 1,400 more are serving life sentences for first-degree murder, imposed before the 1995 sentencing law took effect. They will be eligible for parole consideration after serving 25 years or less. Legislative leaders say they support the longer sentences for everyone convicted of a first-degree murder that occurred after July 1, 1995. "A life sentence ought to mean life, or something close to it," said Rep. Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "That was the whole idea." Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, said the public "has brought a great deal of pressure on the legislature to try to be tougher on these egregious offenses. After we got past the point of building prisons for the first time in a long time and improving our prison system, we thought we could afford the luxury of increasing the sentences for rape and murder and those serious crimes," said Haynes, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We may not be sentencing them to death, but we're going to make sure they don't get out and hurt people again." But both Buck and Haynes acknowledged that a future governor or legislature may want to reduce the length of standard first-degree murder sentences. "Any General Assembly has the constitutional authority to look at those sentences and change them any time they wish," Buck said. Prosecutor Thurman said he believes that murderers sentenced to prison for life without parole will never be released. He said that sentence is sometimes an acceptable way to settle a murder case that might otherwise result in a lengthy and costly death-penalty prosecution. "It gives you an alternative in some serious cases that the victims' families are willing to accept," Thurman said. He said he has not seen any movement toward reducing the length of a standard life sentence for murder. But, Thurman said, "Who knows what could happen in 10 or 15 years?" Nashville lawyer Pat McNally, a past president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the current "standard" sentence for first-degree murder is too harsh for someone convicted of taking part in a felony that ends in a murder -- someone like a robbery lookout or getaway driver -- but not convicted of actually killing anyone. "The felony murder rule can scoop up so many people in a criminal incident and treat them all the same as the trigger person," McNally said. He predicted that imprisoning everyone convicted of first-degree murder for 51 years or more "will get very expensive. The push will eventually be to release these people through pardons," McNally said. Dean, the Metro Nashville public defender, said the long sentences will result in "a geriatric population in the prisons." "The cost of housing people, when they're beyond 70 years old and going to be there till they die, is going to be substantial. It's going to create a whole new series of issues regarding security and medical treatment." Nashville lawyer and legal scholar David Raybin questioned whether members of the legislature "recognized the consequences of what they were doing" when they applied the 85% rule to first-degree murder sentences in 1995. Raybin said Tennessee has historically required most people convicted of first-degree murder to serve about 25 years before they can be considered for release on parole. "You have varying degrees of culpability in first-degree murder cases, and the system should be able to recognize that," Raybin said. He said the legislature should "clarify" the law on what a life sentence means, rather than force the courts to rely on a "theory" posed by the state attorney general's office.

4/30/99 - Judge denies Whitehurst's withdrawal try

KINGSTON NY – Child murderer Larry Whitehurst's bid to withdraw his 1996 guilty plea and invalidate the original indictment against him, in hopes he may someday be paroled, was rejected yesterday. The county court judge who heard Whitehurst's legal arguments last month, yesterday denied Whitehurst's bid to withdraw his guilty plea or enforce a controversial deal he made with prosecutors. So Whitehurst, 28, remains in prison for life without the possibility of parole for the Sept. 21, 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of 7-year-old Rickel Knox. "That's good news to me," said Rev. Willie Hardin, the pastor who counseled the Knox family throughout the ordeal. "Again, my position is that he come out in a body bag, period, that's it. That's still my position. I just don't think he belongs outside." Whitehurst pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Nov. 20, 1996 in Ulster County Court. In doing so he avoided the possibility of execution by lethal injection. Since then he has argued that the plea should be withdrawn because his lawyers didn't properly advise him of the consequences. Also, he was trying to enforce a deal he signed with prosecutors late Sept. 24 in which he was promised 10 years in prison before being eligible for parole if he led police to the girl and she was still alive. If found dead, he would be eligible for parole in 15 years. Once Rickel was found, her skull crushed in and her body hidden under dirt, twigs and leaves in Kingston's wooded outskirts, prosecutors disregarded the deal and announced their intention to seek the death penalty. Whitehurst, "misled authorities to believe that she might still be alive," County Court Judge Frank LaBuda wrote in yesterday's decision. LaBuda, normally Sullivan County Court judge, sat on the case because Ulster County Court Judge J. Michael Bruhn was recused. Whitehurst can now appeal yesterday's decision. Only testimony or evidence heard or seen in a courtroom can be considered by an appeals court. John Casey, Jr., the lawyer representing Whitehurst in his appeals, said it could be a year or more before the case gets heard by a mid-level appeals court. Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams, who was Whitehurst's original prosecutor, said it's impossible to speculate what may ultimately become of the case during the appeals process. He went on: "This man deserves to spend every possible day of his life in prison. It's terrible the Knoxes have to go through this ordeal but we will be relentless in the remainder of the appellate process."

3/3/71 - Man Pardoned By Ex-Governor Files for Office

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A man who once was sentenced to death for the slaying of his former wife's boyfriend has filed for mayor of Oklahoma City. Robert H. Denton II showed Tuesday a certificate of pardon signed by former Gov. Dewey Bartlett and dated Aug. 4, 1969. Denton was convicted in 1934 of murder in the street corner slaying of John Osby Peters. He got the name the "laughing killer" because his former wife testified she heard him laugh as Peters lay dying. Denton was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1935 by former Gov. E. W. Marland. Denton was paroled in 1950.