RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – Attorney General Jason Miyares released the findings of a year-long investigation by the Virginia Parole Board on Wednesday afternoon.
It’s been three years since convicted criminals serving life sentences for violent crimes were allowed to roam free in Virginia. The inquiry found that 137 convicted murderers, rapists and armed robbers were released in the spring of 2020, in violation of longstanding rules.
“What happened here was a clear abuse of power. What happened here was the epitome of criminals first and criminals last,” Miyares said.
The report found that between February and April 2020, the Virginia Parole Board, with the permission of Chairperson Adrianne Bennett, violated state statutes at least 149 times.
It also included several emails from Bennett. In an email exchange between Bennett and her then-admin, Laura Hall, Bennett stated, “Give up the wand of power and let’s cut her loose. All of this must have a silver lining. Give me more!!!”
“She released them from custody and, in some typical cases, personally corresponded with the offenders about their release, eliminating their local probation officer entirely,” Miyares said.
Hall then told investigators Bennett knew it was against policy.
Victims and their families soon complained that they were never told a detainee was to be released, which Miyares also said is against policy.
“Your assailant, your assailant, the person who held a gun to the head of a young employee at a gas station — her life was turned upside down because her assailant should have been behind bars,” Miyares said.
The release of one inmate under scrutiny was that of Vincent Martin. Martin was sentenced to life in prison for the 1979 murder of Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors.
“The policies and procedures of the Virginia Parole Board are permissible [Martin’s] Parole revoked due to significant resistance from victim. No action has been taken,” Miyares said.
Hoping to regain public trust, Miyares recommends improving the ethics rules for parole board members, increasing size and transparency, increasing victim notification requirements, and amending several sections of the Virginia Code to do the work of the committee better.
Miyares said Wednesday that if there were no statute of limitations, Bennett would be prosecuted for those violations. Bennett currently serves the state as a judge in Virginia Beach.
He said it was now up to the General Assembly to decide whether to impeach her.
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