RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A man convicted of killing a Richmond Police officer in 1979 will be released after serving four decades behind bars.

Sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Officer Michael Connors, 64-year-old Vincent Martin has spent the last 40 years incarcerated. Now, his release is creating a lot of backlash among local law enforcement and the victim’s family.

Martin’s parole date has been confirmed for May 11, according to the family of Officer Connors — who said they were not told why. The family was notified the same day that Governor Ralph Northam was questioned about the case at a news conference.

“It was a shock,” said Officer Connors’ sister Maureen Clements. “It’s just heartbreaking… it’s just heartbreaking.”

Maureen Clements

Speaking with 8News, she says life as she’s known it could change with the impending release of her brother’s killer.

“My parents have always said the only peace we really received (was) knowing this man was behind bars because he took our brother,” Clements said. “He took our son.”

In the early 1980s, a jury gave a young Vincent Martin life in prison after robbing a convenience store near Madison and West Grace streets. Following the theft, Officer Connors pulled Martin over.

Describing to 8News what happened to her brother next, she said Martin “shot him once in the throat.”

When the officer fell to the ground, “he stood over my brother..and fired four times more into his face,” Clements added.

Officer Michael Connors
Vincent Martin

Officer Connors was 23-years-old at the time of the fatal slaying.

“The worst kind of news we ever anticipated,” Clements added.

Forty years into a sentence of life, Virginia’s Parole Board has voted to release him, calling him a trusted leader, peacemaker, and mentor in Nottoway Correctional Center. In the written response to the backlash, the Parole Board’s Chair Adrianne Bennett wrote that Martin “consistently receives strong support from Department of Corrections staff” and has been infraction-free for more than 30 years. According to the release, one Corrections officer said, “over the decades, there are numerous instances of Vincent Martin preventing fights, stabbings, and deaths all because it was the right thing to do. Never have I seen an offender demand peace like Vincent Martin does.”

Clements told 8News she’s not convinced Martin is a changed man.

“There are many people that rehabilitate in prisons, I’m sure, and many people who want to come out and do well,” she told 8News. “I just don’t think Martin is one of them.”

Richmond Police Chief Will Smith spoke out against the decision to release Martin:

“Vincent Martin was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers for the execution of Police Officer Michael Connors, an officer who had simply made a traffic stop and was ambushed on his approach to the vehicle.  I am personally dismayed by the actions of the Virginia Parole Board and I know that all Richmond Police Officers, past and present, expect that their lives and sacrifices would carry more weight and value in society than to allow this person’s release.  I am further concerned that the investigation was conducted by the Parole Board’s chair, an investigation that did not include the Department or the evidence of the crime.  I would hope that an immediate review of this entire proceeding be conducted by an impartial body and afterward, his release can be weighed given all evidence and testimony of family, officers, and investigators.”

Richmond Police Chief Will Smith

In response to the controversial decision to grant Martin his release, the Parole Board said, “We have spent years researching this case and reviewing the facts and stand firmly behind our decision to grant his release.”

Former prosecutor and now state Senator Joe Morrissey told 8News that he agrees with the parole board’s decision.

Updated photo of Vincent Martin

“We want to give people the opportunity to redeem themselves in jail, show that they have been rehabilitated,” he said. “He’s done that for 40 years. It’s time to let him out.” He adds that he has read details of the case and still is not convinced that Martin pulled the trigger.

“Strong evidence suggests he wasn’t the shooter,” Morrissey said. “The three co-defendants that came in, their stories were all over the place,” he said, “if anyone deserves in the DOC, to be eligible for parole and to get parole, it’s Mr. Martin.”