SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — In 1979, Mark Brinkley’s grandmother was robbed, abducted, raped, and stabbed to death in her rural Suffolk home.
“Today, if you want to make a horror story,” Brinkley said, the story about what happened to his grandmother, 78-year-old Bessie Rountree, is sobering material.
These are the facts, according the Suffolk Police interview with Patrick Schooley Jr., the man convicted of killing Rountree:
She was home alone when then-15-year-old Schooley knocked on her back door and said he needed to use the phone. He came in, pulled out his knife, asked her for money and took her to the car in the garage. They then drove down the road and he “took a bunch of change and two fives.” He returned to the home, sexually assaulted Rountree, “then I just stabbed her … I stabbed her because she would recognize me,” he said.
Brinkley had tears in his eyes as he recounted what happened to his grandmother to WAVY News.
“It was torture what she went through,” he said.
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Schooley was convicted of capital murder and given three life sentences.
But after 41 years, Schooley got out of prison on April 30.
Brinkley thinks Schooley basically got a “get of jail” free card, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know they have been releasing known killers because of this coronavirus,” he said.
As we reported Friday, it is true: If it were not for COVID-19, Schooley and many other violent felons may still be in prison.
Newly-appointed chair of the Virginia Parole Board, former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman, was not part of this parole decision, but she emailed 10 On Your Side a statement:
“It is my understanding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, during March and April, the Parole Board worked tirelessly to review all parole-eligible individuals and release those … compatible with the interests and welfare of society.”– Virginia Parole Board Chair Tonya Chapman
Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson prosecuted the Schooley case in 1979.
“It is incomprehensible to me that a person can commit this kind of crime against a 78-year-old woman and is then ‘compatible to return to society,’” Ferguson said.
Ferguson thinks Schooley walking free shows something is terribly wrong with the Virginia Parole System,
“To say this is at least partially because of coronavirus is the most absurd and ridiculous comment I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” he said.
Schooley and Dwayne Markee Reid, who also killed in Suffolk, are two of 95 inmates granted parole in March. That is more than half the number approved in all of 2019, according to the Associated Press.
10 On Your Side tried contacting former parole Chair Adrianne Bennett, who is now a Virginia Beach judge for comment, but through the parole board we were told she is unavailable.
“This is absolutely inexcusable,” state Sen. Thomas K. Norment (R-James City County) said.
On Tuesday, Norment sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam urging him to impose a moratorium on releasing violent felons. Northam immediately rejected it.
Ferguson also pointed out many of those paroled are on their own.
“They are not going into re-entry programs. They are suspended due to COVID-19, so, on the one hand, they’re getting a free pass, a free ride is what it boils down to,” he said.
Brinkley is also disappointed in the system. After all that has happened to his family, they were never contacted about Schooley’s release. Ferguson only received notice about it the day before Schooley was released.
It is required by Virginia Code to inform victims and prosecutors before those who are incarcerated are released. Chapman claims in both Suffolk cases, they did not have good numbers on who to contact.