Legislators are calling for a new investigation into alleged misconduct by the Virginia Parole Board (VPB). Last summer, a leaked six-page report from the Office of the State Inspector General detailed how the VPB violated laws and policies when, in April 2020, it decided to parole Vincent Martin without giving his victims the required 50-day notice. Martin was serving a life sentence for killing police officer Michael Connors in 1979, and was released last June. But a new 13-page draft of the report leaked this week, first reported by WTVR, revealing more details about the alleged misconduct by the board and by former Chair Adrianne Bennett, who is now a judge.
According to WTVR, the draft report alleges Bennett asked staff members to falsify records, and Bennett herself advocated in favor of Martin instead of acting impartially, according to the Virginia Mercury. The draft report also implicates current Chair Tracy Chapman who allegedly falsified or destroyed records, according to WTVR.
In response to the new report, Senators Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and John Bell (D-Loudoun) sent a letter to Senate Judicial Committee Chair John Edwards (D-Roanoke) requesting a special committee be created to investigate the allegations.
They wrote, “Based on the current Virginia Inspector General Report from June 2020 on the dealings of the Virginia Parole Board, it’s been revealed ‘that Judge Adrienne Bennett and current chair Tonya Chapman, both, violated multiple state codes and policies and violated the constitution of Virginia.'”
House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) has called for both Bennett and Chapman to resign, and said if they didn’t they should be fired by the General Assembly. “At some point Judge Adrianne Bennett became convinced that twice-convicted cop killer Vincent Martin had been ‘railroaded,’ and abandoned her duty to victims and her duty to the Commonwealth to be an impartial actor. In her zeal to see Vincent Martin released from prison, instructed her subordinates to falsify records in an effort to circumvent policy and secure Martin’s release,” Gilbert said in a press release.
Attorney General candidate Leslie Haley said in a statement, “This is another example of an absolute failure by Virginia’s parole boards to protect the people of our Commonwealth. For too long, elected Democrats like [Attorney General Mark Herring] and [Governor Ralph Northam] in this state have accepted the status quo which has endangered all Virginians.”
Haley said if elected, she would investigate corruption and failure in the parole board. “It’s a failure to obey the law and I think we have to revisit the entirety of the policies. We need an Attorney General who will hold accountabilities to keep our citizens of the Commonwealth safe,” she told The Virginia Star.
Attorney General candidate Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) told The Star that Vincent Martin was given life without the possibility of parole after killing the police officer.
“Now, to your average Virginian, life without the possibility of parole, I’m sure it means he will never see the light of day. But in today’s new, ‘progressive’ Virginia,” Miyares said, “that means something totally different.”
Miyares said that legislators asked questions after Martin was released without proper victims notification, triggering an Inspector General investigation, whose findings were required to be given to the General Assembly. The initial report was already concerning, but Miyares said this week’s leaked draft report revealed “an unconscionable breach of trust.”
“What was represented to us initially and what is being represented to us now — that proper procedures were followed — they weren’t. Pressure was actually applied to try to circumvent the entire process, the victims were never even notified,” he said. “This is a clear, clear breach of trust to both the people of Virginia and law enforcement.”
Miyares also called for Bennett to be impeached, and said he would support having another General Assembly special session to remove her. But he described a bigger problem in Virginia’s criminal justice system of parole boards not considering the victims of crimes when they make decisions to parole.
“Any rule you have can be changed by future General Assemblies. That’s why elections matter,” he said. “That’s why this whole debate about the death penalty, this is exactly one of the issues that we were bringing up. And we are just saying that life without the possibility of parole does not mean that they never get out.”
Miyares introduced a bill in January that required the parole board to notify the victims, virtually if necessary, before making a parole decision. Currently, the law says the board “shall endeavor” to contact the victims. Miyares’ bill died without being heard in committee.
“They could find the time to ban Styrofoam cups, but they couldn’t find the time for even five minutes for a hearing on a bill that says you have to notify the victims before you release a killer back on the streets,” he said. “If that is not an example of the completely misplaced priorities of this General Assembly, I don’t know what is.”
Miyares said the current efforts to end mandatory minimums and other criminal reforms is the same as legislative efforts in the 1970s that he said led to a crime explosion.
He said, “They’re just introducing the same legislation they tried before, all in the name of, quote, criminal justice reform. In reality, this is about criminals first and victims last.”
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