Richmond, VA – An investigation into the Virginia Parole Board that was launched by the state’s watchdog agency after a cop killer was released without warning in April of 2020 found that parole board decisions violated the law on at least eight other convicted killers they paroled, too.
The Officer of the State Inspector General (OSIG) began investigating after the Virginia Parole Board released a killer who murdered a 23-year-old Richmond police officer during a traffic stop in 1979 without giving anyone a chance to object.
The late 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The recently-release OSIG report said that the cases of Officer Connors’ killer and nine more convicted killers showed a pattern of violations of the law that centered on the parole board releasing the convicted murderers without giving notice to prosecutors or victims’ family members, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Prosecutors and family members are supposed to be notified and given time to object to the parole of a convicted person.
OSIG didn’t investigate whether the murderers in these cases should have been paroled, they just looked at whether the parole board had followed the process as stipulated by Virginia law, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“It appears that neither the rules nor the law were followed,” Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson said.
Ferguson prosecuted or oversaw the prosecution of three of the convicted killers the Virginia Parole Board released in a two-week space in April of 2020, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“The three cases in Suffolk were among the worst people I’ve prosecuted in my many years as a prosecutor,” he said. “The crimes were committed by people that maybe should have spent the rest of their life in prison.”
The veteran prosecutor said the releases were “done in a way that was designed to get ‘em out,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
“In a lot of these cases, these people had been denied parole in a matter of months before [they subsequently were released on parole]. And I can tell you that in at least some of these cases, the victims’ families were just totally devastated,” Ferguson said.
“It appears that they just had an agenda and that these [inmates] were getting older and they wanted them out of prison — and that’s what they did,” he added.
Ferguson filed three complaints with the OSIG last fall and all three sets of allegations were substantiated by the investigations, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
However, the findings were kept secret from the public, lawmakers, and even the prosecutor who complained.
Unredacted copies of those reports were recently made available and showed a disturbingly similar pattern, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The brunt of the criticism has been leveled at former Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett, who left the board just six days after Martin was released on April 16, 2020.
Bennett, who has been specifically named in at least three reports, left the Virginia Parole Board to become a judge in Virginia Beach, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, called the OSIG’s findings of wrongdoing lacking objectivity and Jeffrey Breit, attorney for the former parole board chair, said the same thing.
“I think that you will find that there are lots of facts being twisted and I think you will find that the agenda which has heretofore caused more political stories than facts need to have an investigation and we look forward to it,” Breit said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“And I think that when the dust settles you will find that the process followed by the parole board in their discretionary decision-making was followed to the letter of the law,” Bennett’s attorney continued.
But OSIG’s report said the Virginia Parole Board violated parole board policies and the law multiple times last year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Dwayne Markee Reid was sentenced in 1995 in Suffolk Circuit Court to life plus 10 years in prison for capital murder, robbery and felony use of a firearm in the 1993 slaying of 32-year-old Thomas Runyon.
Reid, who was 16 when he murdered Runyon, had previously been convicted of murder when he was 14, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
He became eligible for parole in 2010 and was turned down for the sixth time on Jan. 27, 2020 based on a recommendation that cited his extensive criminal record and prior convictions while under community supervision and his “unlikely compliance with conditions of release” if he were paroled.
The parole board granted Reid’s release just three months later, on March 29, 2020, despite the fact that parole board policy prohibited them from considering an inmate’s release more than once in a 12-month period, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
OSIG also said the board failed to provide written notice to the Suffolk County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in the statutory timeframe and failed to “endeavor diligently” to contact the victim’s family.
The parole board broke the rules in almost the exact same way when they released Tyson Xavier Golden, who was serving three life sentences plus 118 years for his role in three violent home invasions who that left two elderly people dead, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
First, they made Golden eligible parole on April 23, 2019 and he had his first parole hearing in September of the same year.
The hearing examiner didn’t grant him parole because of his extensive and serious criminal record and additional problems inside the prison while he was incarcerated, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Three months later the Virginia Parole Board voted to release Golden on parole after he had served 33 years and four months of his sentence.
Again, the board failed to notify the Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in a timely manner and didn’t try hard enough to notify the victims’ family, the OSIG report concluded.
Two more of the released convicted killers were granted geriatric releases from prison even though they hadn’t applied for them as is required by parole board policy, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The OSIG has recommended misdemeanor criminal charges be filed against the former parole board chair.