The Virginia Parole Board’s Violation of State Law

Arriving like an unsolicited gift, fresh events have shone more light on the ethical standards of the Virginia Parole Board and its former chairwoman Adrianne Bennett, so a brief update is now required.

The last post here was unequivocal in asserting that the Board’s decision to release Jens Soering on parole at the same time as Elizabeth Haysom was thoroughly corrupt, the product of political influence and intensive lobbying rather than anything resembling merit. With excellent timing, further evidence of the Board’s willingness to act improperly has recently emerged in respect of another parole decision, which should not go unnoticed and really needs to be considered against the background of the Soering case.

For this latest news we are indebted to the good work of CBS 6 TV station in Richmond and all credit to them. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have been equally curious when it came to Jens Soering. A big story was there for them.

CBS 6 headline

CBS 6, Richmond

This is not the place for a detailed account of the story. But the essence is that in 1979 a man named Vincent Lamont Martin (“VLM”) shot 23-year-old police officer Michael Connors multiple times in the head and neck at close range, in what the prosecutor described as “a flat out execution.”

It means, of course, that Martin had been in prison for the best part of 41 years before being granted parole, which is a very long time. Nevertheless, he was not without a significant criminal history. When he killed Officer Connors he was on parole, having just served six years of a 30-year sentence for robbery and possession of a sawn-off shotgun. At the time he had been free for less than 100 days. Clearly, some people are slow learners.

Following complaints, an administrative investigation into the circumstances of Vincent Martin’s release on parole was conducted by Virginia’s Office of the State Inspector General. In his report, the Inspector General refers to the VPB [Virginia Parole Board] Policy Manual’s Parole Decision Factors, as mentioned here previously in relation to Soering.

The findings, in summary only, were these:

  • VPB did not notify the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Martin’s parole within the statutory timeframe.
  • VPB did not “endeavor diligently” to contact the victims prior to making the decision, as it was required to do.
  • VPB did not notify the victim’s family after annual parole reviews first began.
  • Several VPB employees alleged that the Virginia Code and Board policies and procedures were not always followed while Adrianne Bennett was Chair. They stated that Bennett was vocal about not wanting to contact victims, especially in Martin’s case because opposition was expected as a result of the victim being a police officer.
  • VPB did not allow the victim’s family to meet with the Board in accordance with policy and procedure.
  • According to the victim’s family, a conference call was arranged, but neither Bennett nor any other Board member showed up for it.
  • Bennett did not cause minutes of meetings to be kept, as required by the Code: “There are no records of VPB meeting minutes for October 2019-March 2020.”

That’s quite a list. And it must be wondered how many more breaches of statute, code, policy and procedure occurred in order to fix it for Jens Soering. The period during which no meeting minutes were kept includes the time when the decision was made to release him, of course, which cannot be much of a surprise. So no record is left of those very important discussions, which would have revealed a lot. Bennett appears to have been running the Parole Board on a whim as her own private fiefdom.

This was the Inspector General’s conclusion:

The allegations that VPB and former VPB Chair Adrianne Bennett violated COV statutes and VPB policies and procedures regarding the release of DOC offender VLM are substantiated.”

Those are merely the basics. Anyone wishing to read the full six-page report of the Inspector General will find it at the bottom of the page as a downloadable PDF document. It should be noted that the original copy of the report as sent to the media was “almost completely redacted.” Fortunately, CBS 6 was later able to obtain a clean copy and that is the very damning version available below.

Virginia Republicans were quick to react, naturally:

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, two Republican state senators and the House Minority Leader called for every member of the board to either resign or be fired by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.”

Can anyone, whatever their politics, seriously argue with that?

At the end of the document, Inspector General Michael C. Westfall adds that potential recommendations will be outlined in a subsequent report. This story is likely to be bubbling away for a while longer.

It might be thought that recommendations tend to write themselves but it will still be very interesting to see what eventually transpires – and whether, in this instance, Democrats and Republicans can agree on the required action to be taken. That seems unlikely in an era of such ultra-partisan politics.

In reality, none of the Board members are fit to hold public office, in particular the since-departed Bennett. Most astonishing of all, however, this wretched woman has now been made a judge! The cesspit of corruption emanating directly or indirectly from the Soering case appears to have no limits.

When contacted by The New York Times

Bennett, now a judge in Virginia Beach, did not respond to a request for comment.

There’s really nothing more to be said.

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Inspector General’s report – unredacted