Virginia Senate passes bill to make parole board decisions public

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would make the votes from each member of the state’s Parole Board available for public record, legislation pushed by Republicans after a report from the state’s watchdog agency found the board violated state 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.

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. The inspector general’s office turned over unredacted copies of the report to state lawmakers last month, prompting top Republicans to call on the entire board to resign.  

The current chairwoman of the board, Tonya Chapman, wrote in a response to the inspector general on July 24, which was provided to 8News, 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.”

The Senate passed the legislation with a 29-10 vote on Wednesday, a week after the bill was narrowly approved by the the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. Sen. David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), who introduced the measure, argued that the parole board’s authority to release inmates has a tremendous impact on public safety and that those decisions should be made available to the public.

Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) countered by saying that the bill aims to make the board’s decisions public but not the documents that help members making their choices, including reports, letters from victims and risk assessment scores of inmates.

The measure will now be considered by the House of Delegates.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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