Policy change could allow some convicted murderers to get a new chance at parole

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDKY) – Dozens of convicted murderers in Kentucky will have a new chance at parole. That’s after a change by the Kentucky Parole Board.

In 2017, Scotty Baker’s family told a parole board how his murder had affected them.

He was killed in 1992 by his stepmother Stephanie Spitser.

His mother, Ruth Rose, said the only peace she had was the decision the board made a few days after that hearing, that Spitser serve out her life sentence.

“I guess the biggest thing is I thought this was finished. That we would never have to go through something like a parole hearing again. Parole hearings are painful, it brings it all back to life again. The families are devastated all over again,” Rose said.

Tuesday she learned she’ll likely have to go through one again.

The Kentucky Parole Board issued a directive on April 1 of this year that inmates currently serving life or life without parole for 25 years cannot be ordered to serve out their sentence at their first parole hearing.

They said this directive was issued after various legal issues were raised in a case challenging the board’s existing practice.

“It breaks my heart that these families, just like our family, is going to have to go through this,” Rose said.

One of the more than 40 cases impacted is that of Leif Halvorsen. He was on death row in connection to three murders in Lexington. Former Governor Matt Bevin commuted Halvorsen’s sentence to life in prison with parole. In 2020 he was ordered to serve out, but will now get another chance at parole in 2030.

His attorney says that’s a good thing.

“It provides further opportunity for him to use the little remaining time he would have left to help others. To make a difference in society. Because he is certainly not now the person he was when the crime occurred and he was initially incarcerated in 1983,” said David Barron with the Department of Public Advocacy.

Parole hearings for older cases will start this summer. More recent ones will be ten years after their first hearing. For Stephanie Spitser, that’ll be 2027.

“No one that’s ever violently killed somebody, especially child, ever pays their dues. And if I had to go back and do it all over again I would never agree to give her life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years. I would have insisted that we go for the death penalty,” Rose said.

The president of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association, Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn, released this statement:

On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association was alerted by a retired Commonwealth’s Attorney that the Kentucky Parole Board had recently issued a directive that would result in parole eligibility hearings for a number of inmates who had previously been given serve outs by the parole board. The prosecutor had been contacted by a survivor who had received notice that her sister’s killer was now eligible for a parole hearing on July 1st, 2021, even though he had been given a serve out in 2009 by the Kentucky Parole Board.

The directive provides that any inmate serving a life sentence shall not be given a deferral of longer than 120 months at the initial parole hearing and specifically directs that a serve out shall not be given at the initial hearing. Furthermore, the directive is retroactive, so that any inmate serving a life sentence that received a serve out at the initial hearing has now had the serve out converted to a 120 month deferment and will be given a parole hearing no longer than 6 months after the directive.

According to information obtained from the Kentucky Parole Board this directive applies to 43 inmates who were convicted and given life sentences. These are offenders who have committed violent and deadly crimes.

The Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Association has significant legal concerns about the Kentucky Parole Board’s authority to make these decisions and believes this sudden change is an affront to crime victims and their survivors, and a violation of the spirit of Section 26A. of the Kentucky Constitution regarding crime victims’ rights (Marsy’s Law amendment.)

These crime victims and survivors deserve much more than a letter advising them that the person that killed their loved one, and was order to serve out their sentence, is now having a parole eligibility hearing in the next 180 days. These crime victims have been through a nightmare but received some comfort that the person who murdered their loved one was going to spend the rest of their life in prison, but now it is the parole board that is going to turn these crime victims’ lives upside down again and make them relieve their agony and wonder whether the killer will be released. This is shameful and should be stopped.

This response is on behalf of the KCAA and each Commonwealth’s Attorney may have their own opinion on this matter.

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