RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Top Virginia Republicans have called on Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to impose an immediate moratorium on granting early releases to inmates with violent convictions, a day after a decision from the state’s parole board to release a convicted killer came under scrutiny.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly, House Minority Leader C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), issued a joint statement Tuesday with Del. Robert B. “Rob” Bell (R-Albemarle) and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) asking the governor to halt early releases of felons with violent convictions in light of recent reports.
“It is time for Governor Northam to demonstrate support for the victims, and the families of victims, of violent crimes. The Governor should immediately impose a moratorium on the early release of those convicted of violent felonies,” the lawmakers said in the statement. “The revelations by the Associated Press that the Parole Board has ‘released dozens of violent offenders, including killers, rapists and kidnappers’ over the last several weeks are shocking. It is unconscionable that victims’ families have not received proper notification, as required by law, of these disgraceful decisions.”
In an interview with 8News on Tuesday, Gilbert said: “I think there was a huge rush to release people, even violent people back into the community for whatever reason. We had what seems like three dozen murderers released back into the community in March alone.”
The plea for a moratorium comes after the release of Vincent Martin, a Nottoway Correctional Center inmate who was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty for killing Richmond patrolman Michael P. Connors in 1979, was delayed for 30 days. Martin’s release, approved by the Virginia Parole Board in March, was scheduled to take place on Monday.
“Yesterday’s announcement by Secretary Moran that the early release of Vincent Martin has been delayed for 30 days was welcome news. In our view, the murderer of Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors should complete the life sentence he received upon conviction,” the statement said.
On Sunday, the same group of Republicans wrote a letter to Northam urging the governor to halt Martin’s release. The letter claimed there were “highly irregular actions” around the parole board’s ruling to grant Martin his release in the letter, citing an ongoing investigation allegedly being conducted by the Office of the Inspector General’s “into potential procedural and/or legal violations” by the board.
In their statement Tuesday, lawmakers confirmed that an investigation into the board’s decision is underway.
“Secretary Moran correctly observed that a ‘cloud’ had formed over the Parole Board’s decision to release Mr. Martin. Regardless of the findings of the Inspector General’s investigation, that cloud will remain if Mr. Martin is freed within the next 30 days,” they wrote. “Releasing an individual who was sentenced to life imprisonment for brutally murdering an on-duty police officer is an outrageous act and an affront to justice.”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said in a statement to 8News that the governor has denied the request for a moratorium.
“Governor Northam rejects this proposal. Based on our current laws, parole provides a very limited number of individuals—who have rehabilitated themselves and demonstrated that their release is compatible with public safety—the opportunity for a second chance,” the statement said. “The Governor and his administration have worked tirelessly to create a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system, and safe parole is an important part of that work.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.