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Parole Board Criticized For Releasing Some Offenders

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Republican lawmakers, local prosecutors, and victim’s families are pushing back on the Virginia Parole Board’s decision to release some offenders during the pandemic. 

“This is the parole board that has seemingly taken the entire month of March to release some of the worst of the worst in the state’s prisons,”  Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said. 

Obenshain and others have accused the board of releasing prisoners without properly notifying victims or local prosecutors, which is required by state law.

“I don’t share the governor’s confidence that the parole board knows what it’s doing,” Obenshain said. 

Obenshain joined a handful of Republican leaders in sending a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam over the weekend, asking him to halt the release of Vincent Martin, an inmate who is serving life in prison for killing a Richmond Police officer Michael Connors in 1979. 

Martin’s release has since been put on hold as the Office of the State Inspector General investigates how the parole board handled that case. 

This comes after weeks of outcry from the law enforcement community, including Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall. Hall is also the president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. 

“This offender, Mr. Martin, should never see beyond prison walls again,” Hall said. “But here we are 40 years later, the parole board offering consideration to someone who committed this kind of crime.”

The parole board granted Martin parole back in April, noting that he exhibited good behavior over the years and became a leader in the corrections community. 

The Associated Press reports that Connors’ family was notified Monday that Martin would not be released as scheduled.

Tonya Chapman, who became the new chair of the parole board last month, said in a press release that the board put a 30-day hold on Martin’s release pending the conclusion of the OSIG investigation. 

“The Board remains confident in its decision to grant parole to Mr. Martin and looks forward to the conclusion of this administrative investigation,” she said.

Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran responded to the Parole Board’s decision to postpone Martin’s release in light of the concerns and investigation during a press briefing Monday with the governor.  

“This will allow the removal of the cloud that has formed over this parole decision,” Moran said. 

Moran added that the parole board reviewed about three times as many cases in March as they normally would in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they rejected more than 80% of the cases they reviewed.


Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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