RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The expected release Monday of a man convicted in the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer has been put on hold, and an investigation by Virginia’s government watchdog agency is underway into the parole board’s handling of his case, according to the slain officer’s sister.
Maureen Clements told The Associated Press she was notified Monday morning by the Virginia Parole Board that Vincent L. Martin, who has spent four decades in prison for her brother’s on-duty killing, would not be released as scheduled.
“I have been told that the offender is not being released today. I have no further information at this time,” a parole board employee wrote in an email to Clements, who shared it with AP.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said Monday morning that Martin remained in custody at the Nottoway Correctional Center.
On Friday, WAVY News 10’s Andy Fox also reported that some family members of the victims of offenders who had recently been paroled — including Martin — were frustrated and in pain over the releases.
Clements said she filed a complaint with the Office of the State Inspector General over the Virginia Parole Board’s handling of Martin’s case. Martin was sentenced to life in prison in 1980 for killing patrolman Michael P. Connors, who was shot in the head during a traffic stop.
The parole decision sparked an uproar in the law enforcement community, and both Connors’ family and Richmond’s top prosecutor have asked the board to rescind its decision.
On Sunday, four Republican lawmakers wrote to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, asking him to intervene, as did the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Since the Inspector General’s investigation concerns the release of an inmate who was convicted of a capital crime, his release must be stopped immediately and the serious allegations about Parole Board improprieties must be investigated,” reads the letter, signed by the association’s Executive Director Dana Schrad and President Howard Hall, the Roanoke County chief of police.
Schrad and Hall said the board’s processing of parole reviews during the past two months “has happened at a furious pace” and “begs the question” of how the board and its staff can fully review and “do due diligence” in the review process.
State officials have said the parole board has accelerated its work amid the coronavirus pandemic. It has recently granted the release of dozens of violent offenders, including killers, rapists and kidnappers, blindsiding many prosecutors and victims’ families who say they were not properly notified as required by law, according to an Associated Press review of recent cases.
“How many victims and Commonwealth’s Attorneys have not received the proper notice and opportunity to engage in the parole process during this time?” Schrad and Hall ask in the letter.
Northam’s spokeswoman could not immediately be reached, and Parole Board Chair Tonya Chapman did not respond to questions from the AP about Martin’s case or the inspector general’s investigation. The parole board employee who wrote to Clements, victim services coordinator Lisa Bowen, said she had no further details when reached by AP.
Clements said she has had multiple conversations with the inspector general’s office and has been told they are investigating not only the board’s handling of the Martin case but several others.
Kate Hourin, a spokeswoman for the IG’s office said she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
News of an investigation was first reported by TV station WTVR.
Former parole board chair Adrianne Bennett, who recently left that role to become a judge, released a lengthy statement last month defending the board’s decision to release Martin. In it, she wrote that Martin “has demonstrated himself over the decades to be a trusted leader, peacemaker, mediator and mentor in the correctional community” and has been infraction-free for more than 30 years. Martin has always maintained his innocence, wrote Bennett, who has not responded to interview requests.
She criticized the pushback to the board’s decision, writing: “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. While this tactic has worked with Parole Boards in other states, this Board does not respond to this type of pressure campaign.”
It was not immediately clear if Martin currently has an attorney representing him. The AP sent an interview request through DOC staff.
Clements said the situation has been devastating for her close-knit family, including her elderly parents.
She said they received a letter in March notifying them that Martin was up for review by the parole board. She said that was the first time her family had ever been contacted by the board, despite the fact that Martin had been considered numerous times.
State code says the parole board must “endeavor diligently” to contact the victim before making any decision to release an inmate on discretionary parole, and the definition of a victim in a homicide includes relatives.
Clements said Monday she was pleased that Martin’s release had been delayed for at least a day. But she remained frustrated about what she described as a continuing lack of communication from the board. She said her family had not received even an acknowledgement that they had filed a request for a hearing reconsidering the board’s decision.
“What a travesty,” Clements said.
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