Richmond, VA – A man who executed a 23-year-old Richmond police officer during a traffic stop in 1979 was just granted parole despite the fact the officer’s family and police department were not given an opportunity object.
Richmond Police Officer Michael P. Connors stopped a car near Linden and Main Streets for traveling the wrong way down a one-way street at about 2:05 a.m. on Nov. 13, 1979, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Officer Connors, 23, did not know that the occupants of the vehicle had just robbed a 7-Eleven store near Virginia Commonwealth University.
Testimony at trial revealed that when Officer Connors approached the getaway car, then 23-year-old Vincent Lamont Martin got out of the vehicle, The Hill reported.
Officer Connors told Martin to get back in the car, and Martin drew a handgun and shot the police officer in the neck.
Testimony revealed that after the officer fell to the ground, and Martin stood over Officer Connors and shot him in the head four times at close range, according to The Hill.
“It was a flat out execution,” Stacy Garrett, who prosecuted the case, told WTVR. “The medical examiner testified that during the autopsy, she removed bits and pieces of gravel and stone that were in his face because of the force of the gun shots… it’s just something you never forget.”
Martin was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
But he appealed on a technicality and was granted a new trial, The Hill reported.
The judge at his first trial hadn’t allowed the defense attorney to strike a potential jury member for cause, and so the attorney had to use a peremptory challenge to dismiss the woman.
Although the woman didn’t serve on Martin’s jury, the appellate court said the judge should have struck the juror for cause, and ordered that Officer Connors’ killer should have a new trial, The Hill reported.
The second jury also convicted Martin of capital murder, but they gave him life in prison instead of the death penalty.
Officer Connors’ killer has applied for parole numerous times but the parole board never actually considered giving it to him until recently, according to The Hill.
The Parole Board noted when they turned down Martin’s parole request in 2018 that the inmate had been convicted of additional crimes while he was incarcerated, WTVR reported.
In 2019, they denied Martin parole again and said it was too risky to release him because of his violent history and extensive criminal record.
“Your prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicate that you are unlikely to comply with conditions of release,” the document read, according to WTVR.
But one year later, on April 10, without giving Officer Connors’ family or the Richmond Police Department the statutory 45 days to deliver victim impact statements or object, the Virginia Parole Board voted by a supermajority to grant parole to the cop killer, The Hill reported.
“Vincent Martin has demonstrated himself over the decades to be a trusted leader, peacemaker, mediator and mentor in the correctional community,” Virginia Parole Board Chair Adrianne L. Bennett wrote in a press release issued April 15.
“Vincent Martin consistently receives strong support from Department of Corrections staff,” Bennett’s statement continued.
She claimed one staff member said “’Vincent Martin is looked at as a role model, mentor, father, brother, cadre and guiding light to both staff and offenders.”
Bennett said the Officer Connors’ family was solicited for input ahead of the Parole Board’s decision, but the fallen hero’s sister, Maureen Clements, told WTVR that was not the case.
Clements said that Officer Connors’ family was notified Martin was up for parole in early March, and then Bennett called them on March 25 and told them the board had made its decision to grant parole to the cop killer.
“It was disappointing and devastating when we heard it, on Good Friday of all days,” Clements told WTVR. “But it was almost something we expected.”
The problem is that state law in Virginia says the family of the victim “shall have 45 days” to respond to the parole board before they make a decision.
Clements said she wants to know when the 45 days supposedly started, WTVR reported.
Richmond Police Chief William Smith released a statement in response to the news about Martin’s release that said “Richmond police officers, past and present, expect that their lives and sacrifices would carry more weight and value in society than to allow this person’s release,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“I am further concerned that the investigation was conducted by the Parole Board’s chair, an investigation that did not include the department nor the evidence of the crime,” Chief Smith said. “I would hope that an immediate review of this entire proceeding be conducted by an impartial body and afterwards his release can be weighed given all evidence and testimony of family, officers and investigators.”
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) has said it will make every effort to stop Martin’s parole from happening, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“We are appalled and disappointed with the Parole Board’s decision to release Vincent Martin,” VACP President Dana Schrad wrote in an email. “This is a felony murder case involving the brutal killing of Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors which should not be considered for parole. The Connors family is grieving again over the lack of concern for the impact on their family, and it is a slap in the face to every law enforcement officer in Virginia.”
The Parole Board chair hit back against the criticism in the statement that was released, and claimed the murdered officer’s family had been consulted ahead of the vote.
Bennett said in the statement that the Parole Board’s decision was final and criticized law enforcement efforts to change it.
“Ignited by the officer’s family, the Richmond Police Chief, along with other law enforcement organizations have joined in a disappointing chorus of opposition to the Parole Board’s decision,” the board chair wrote. “While this tactic has worked with Parole Boards in other states, this Board does not respond to this type of pressure campaign. These efforts are inappropriate and are intended to nullify the Parole Board’s decision, which again was reached after significant research, discussion and review.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was asked by reporters at a press conference on April 17 if he would intervene and stop the release of the cop killer, WTVR reported.
“I’ll be happy to look at, it but my plate has been kind of full with this pandemic, but I’ll be happy to look at it,” Northam replied.