Republicans call on Virginia Parole Board to resign after report finds violations in release of man convicted of killing officer

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Top Republican lawmakers called on the entire Virginia Parole Board to resign Thursday, a day after the state’s watchdog agency turned over unredacted copies of a report that found the board violated the law and its own procedures during the parole process of a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979.

Vincent Lamont Martin was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty for killing Richmond patrolman Michael P. Connors in 1979. The Virginia Parole Board approved Martin’s release in March, as other inmates were getting early release amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While his release was temporarily halted, Martin was eventually paroled in June. The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) began an investigation into allegations that the board’s chairwoman and former chairwoman “violated Commonwealth of Virginia (COV) statutes and VPB policies and procedures regarding the parole of a specific DOC offender (VLM).”

The state agency found that the parole board violated state law and its own procedures, including ignoring protocols to reach out to the victim’s family, when it granted Martin’s release. In a virtual press briefing Thursday, the state’s GOP leaders shared the report’s findings, calling the actions from the parole board “shocking” and “disgusting.”

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“VLM first became eligible for parole in 1994 and subsequently received annual parole reviews. VPB did not notify the victim’s family of these reviews, and records show VPB did not perform any due diligence to contact the family,” the report from the inspector general states. “The first written notification the family received was dated March 4, 2020, when the family was instructed to provide input regarding the discretionary parole release of VLM within 21 days, even though VPB procedure allows 50 days for victim response.”

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) called on the board to resign and for Gov. Ralph Northam to fire them if they do not. Republicans also demanded that the governor rescind Martin’s parole and immediately have him returned to prison.

A spokeswoman for Northam, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement Thursday that the governor is pleased that the investigation was made public and that he told the new chair of the board “that he expects all notification procedures to be followed.”

“Governor Northam appreciates the work of the Inspector General and is glad this report has been made public,” Yarmosky wrote in an email to 8News. “It is important to note that this review was procedural and has nothing to do with the merits of the Parole Board’s decision to release this individual, who had served a 40 year sentence. Governor Northam has spoken with the new Chair of the Parole Board, and reiterated that he expects all notification procedures to be followed, period.”

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“The results are shocking. Both previous and current leadership of the Board were actively working for Martin’s release, rather than seeking impartial justice,” House Republican Leader C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), and Obenshain said in a joint statement. “These two officials worked to systematically exclude the testimony of anyone who opposed his release, including family members. They violated Parole Board policy, and they violated the law in utterly unjustifiable ways.

The current chairwoman of the board, Tonya Chapman, wrote in a response to the inspector general on July 24, which was provided to 8News on Thursday, that the report’s “conclusions are based on faulty assumptions, incorrect facts, a misunderstanding of certain procedures, and incorrect interpretations of the Virginia State Code.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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