State Inspector General: Virginia parole board broke the rules and the laws, voted to release convicted killers

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RICHMOND, VA – Recently released reports from the Office of the State Inspector General allege that the Virginia Parole Board may have violated state law with a handful of cases regarding inmates being granted parole. 

While the OSIG reports didn’t delve into whether there was merit to substantiate favor in said inmate releases, patterns in certain cases were examined that showcase potential policy and state laws that were subverted in the parole process. 

Apparently the Virginia Parole Board caught some investigative attention in 2020 after having granted the release of a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer 40 years ago. 

But what started as a probe regarding one particular case has evolved into a more broad investigation into nine instances of inmates being granted parole where key procedural aspects were allegedly not adhered to properly by the parole board. 

The patterns that surfaced in these nine cases from 2020 revolve around the Virginia Parole Board allegedly either not exercising due diligence in, or disregarding the practice of, informing state prosecutors and/or the victims’ family members of parole hearings and granted releases. 

It just so happens that these various granted releases wound up coming to fruition in early April of 2020, right before former parole board Chair Adrianne Bennett left the parole board on April 16th, 2020 to become a judge in Virginia Beach. 

Furthermore, Bennett’s name crops up on every report in question. 

Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson had personally prosecuted or oversaw the prosecution of three of these cases involving inmates released by the Virginia Parole Board during April of 2020. 

When speaking on the matter, Ferguson noted the following: 

“It appears that neither the rules nor the law were followed.”

“The three cases in Suffolk were among the worst people I’ve prosecuted in my many years as a prosecutor. The crimes were committed by people that maybe should have spent the rest of their life in prison.”

Ferguson claims that based upon the OSIG reports, it seems that these inmate releases were, “done in a way that was designed to get ’em out.”

The prosecutor stated that many of these inmates released had been denied parole mere months before they were suddenly granted release, often upsetting the family members of victims in the cases: 

“In a lot of these cases, these people had been denied parole in a matter of months before. And I can tell you that in at least some of these cases, the victims’ families were just totally devastated.”

“It appears that they just had an agenda and that these [inmates] were getting older and they wanted them out of prison — and that’s what they did.”

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A review of some of the cases in question investigated by the OSIG are as follows:

In 1995, Dwayne Markee Reid was sentenced to life in prison, plus 10 years, for the 1993 murder of 32-year-old Thomas Runyon. Reid, who was 16 at the time of the murder, had also been convicted of another murder he committed when he was 14. 

During a January, 2020 parole hearing, Reid was denied parole based upon factors that included his criminal convictions. Yet. on March 28th, 2020, he was granted parole and released on April 17th, 2020. 

In that case, the OSIG reportedly found that the Virginia Parole Board didn’t “endeavor diligently” to reach out to the victim’s family before determining whether Reid would be released from prison. 

In the case of Tyson Xavier Golden, he was sentenced to three life sentences plus 118 years in prison for three home invasions and the murder of 91-year-old Larry White in 1986. 

Golden was originally barred from ever being considered for parole, but the parole board exercised its legal discretion on April 23rd, 2019, to restore his parole eligibility. 

Come January 20th, 2020, Golden was granted parole and he was released from prison on April 3rd. In this case, the OSIG found that the Virginia Parole Board didn’t provide written notice of his release to the Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office within the statutory time frame. 

On top of the aforementioned, the parole board also allegedly didn’t “endeavor diligently” to notify the family members of the various victims in Golden’s case. 

Another case from the OSIG reports examined the release of Debra Kaye Scribner, who was sentenced to 23 years and six months for first-degree murder back in February of 2012. 

Scribner was 58-years-old at the time she murdered her son-in-law, and became eligible for a geriatric conditional release in November of 2018. However, the parole board had initially denied her release at the time due to the nature of her offense and the minimal time served. 

Yet, she was granted parole some time between March 20th and 30th of 2020, and was released on April 1st.

Once again, the OSIG report alleges that the Virginia Parole Board didn’t “endeavor diligently” to contact the victim’s family before deciding on her release, as well as waiting until 15 days after her release to notify the Halifax commonwealth’s attorney. 

One of the more unique cases from the OSIG reports involved the release of Irvian Cotton, who was sentenced to life plus two years in prison for the 1985 murder of his wife that was committed in front of their two children. 

In the case of Cotton’s release, the OSIG alleges that failed to provide written notice of his release to the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office within the statutory time frame and also didn’t “endeavor diligently” to notify the victim’s family of his release. 

Much like in Scribner’s case, Cotton was eligible for a conditional geriatric release in May 2012. In October of 2019 and in January of 2020, Cotton’s parole was denied – yet on March 31st of 2020, he was granted a conditional geriatric release and was set free on April 17th at the age of 67. 

Apparently, this number of various parole hearings for Cotton violated parole board policy relating to considering an inmate’s release more than once in a 12-month period. Furthermore, the OSIG found that Cotton never filed a petition for geriatric release, which is required by the parole board’s policies.

The OSIG report happened to find a March, 2020 email from Bennett referencing Cotton’s case, which noted the following: 

“He was recently denied parole…He is old and has been in prison for over 30 years. I had planned to grant him parole before I left the board…I would like to get him in my queue and get him voted before I’m gone. He will be considered geriatric so he will not be interviewed and a decision will come quick if he makes it.”

Jeffrey Breit, who is Bennett’s attorney, claims that the OSIG’s findings from these reports that allege subverting of state law or policy are baseless:

“I think that you will find that there are lots of facts being twisted, and I think you will find that the agenda, which has heretofore caused more political stories than facts, need to have an investigation, and we look forward to it.”

“And I think that when the dust settles, you will find that the process followed by the parole board in their discretionary decision-making was followed to the letter of the law.”

Governor Ralph Northam’s Chief of Staff, Clark Mercer, was also highly critical of the OSIG reports, stating the following about the meeting he and other officials had with the OSIG regarding the report back in 2020: 

“We went into that meeting thinking that there was bias and a lack of objectivity. We left that meeting knowing that there was bias and a lack of objectivity in that report.”

Jennifer Moschetti, an investigator in the OSIG and who handled much of the investigation into these inmate releases, was reportedly placed on paid leave earlier in March of 2021, in connection with the unredacted reports being leaked to various parties regarding the OSIG investigation. 

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