The Parole Board Undermines Justice
May 14, 2020
By: Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, Sr.
This week marks the 58th annual recognition of National Police Week, initially authorized by an act of Congress, with a Proclamation by President John F. Kennedy. Virginia’s recognition of this week appears to be less than wholehearted, judging from a recent decision by the Virginia Parole Board and subsequent inaction by Governor Northam.
In 2019, the General Assembly approved signed legislation to ensure those convicted of capital murder of a law-enforcement officer would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment. Governor Northam subsequently signed this bill, Senate Bill 1501, and it became law on July 1, 2019.
I sponsored Senate Bill 1501 after a 36-year sentence was given to Travis Ball in the slaying of State Police Special Agent Michael Walter. A Circuit Court Judge in Richmond awarded Ball a reduced sentence due to his troubled past. The pain and anguish of the Walter family, which they will bear for the rest of their lives, was not given such consideration.
Now, less than a year after it became law that the murderer of a police officer would receive a life sentence, the Parole Board has approved the early release of the murderer of Richmond Police Officer Michael Connors. Vincent Lamont Martin, who repeatedly shot Officer Connors, received a life sentence for his crime. Disregarding the gravity of Martin’s crime and disrespecting the family of Officer Connors, the Parole Board unilaterally determined that a life sentence needn’t last that long.
As the patron of Senate Bill 1501, I am appalled by the actions of the Parole Board in approving the release of Vincent Lamont Martin. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought once a court gave a killer life without parole, a liberal parole board would set murderers free regardless of who they killed.
Employing the same misguided standards as the judge who awarded a lenient sentence in the murder of Special Agent Walter, the Parole Board is undermining justice and circumventing the law by putting convicted murderers back out on the street before the completion of their sentences. In releasing Martin, the Parole Board asserted the murderer had become a model citizen, albeit in the severely and strictly controlled environment of incarceration. This reasoning isn’t just flawed, it is an insult to the families of murder victims.
Just like countless other families of victims across Virginia, the families of murdered law enforcement officers will no longer believe our justice system is fair when the killers of their loved ones are unjustly set free. Effectively, a life sentence doesn’t mean life, as the system cynically allows a period of time to pass in hopes the bad memories fade away. Then, in proceedings victims’ families were not given an opportunity to attend, the killers of their loved ones are released back into society.
Only a handful of legislators opposed Senate Bill 1501 when it passed during the 2019 session. Governor Northam signed the legislation into law during a ceremony where he consoled the widows of slain police officers. Now, the sympathies he expressed that day appear to be meaningless as he fails to act to halt the Parole Board from releasing the murderer of Office Connors.
During the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, Governor Northam has expressed his unwavering support for our first responders. But, those words of support ring hollow when he simultaneously ignores the pain of the families of murdered first responders. And by allowing killers sentenced to life imprisonment for those murders to be freed, he renews and extends the pain of those families.
In honor of Police Week, Governor Northam should act now to halt the release of Vincent Lamont Martin – not just for the next thirty days, but permanently. Justice demands the Governor – and the Parole Board he appointed – recognize that a life sentence means life, that the rights of victims’ families be respected and that their lifetime of loss not be ignored.
Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, Sr. is a retired Virginia State Police Trooper. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-2012, and in the Senate of Virginia from 2012-2020.