Article Comment 

State lawmakers push for parole board changes

 

Shelia Byrd

 

 

JACKSON -- They were two heinous crimes from the 1980s -- Douglas Hodgkin raped and murdered a pregnant college student and Michael David Graham stalked and killed his ex-wife -- yet one was released and the other allowed to take another step toward freedom. 

 

Hodgkin was granted parole last month, pending certain conditions. Gov. Haley Barbour suspended Graham''s sentence last year. Those cases were the impetus for legislation passed Thursday in the Mississippi Senate to make it more difficult for felons to be released from prison. 

 

The vehicle lawmakers are using is a bill to reauthorize the state Parole Board, made up of five members appointed by the governor. 

 

Two Gulf Coast lawmakers changed the bill to require the governor to hold a public hearing before exercising a pardon. It would also require a unanimous vote by the parole board to release a felon convicted of capital murder and a sex crime. Currently, it only takes a simple majority. 

 

Sen. David Baria, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, successfully proposed requiring the governor to contact the district attorney''s office where the crime occurred and then schedule the hearing before granting the pardon. 

 

Baria said Barbour''s decision about Graham was criticized by many people on the Gulf Coast, but the aim of his proposal wasn''t to limit the governor''s power. 

 

"It just opens up the process and allows for a forum for the public to appreciate what''s being considered and to voice their opinions and concerns about the gubernatorial pardon," Baria said. 

 

Graham was convicted in the shotgun slaying of Adrienne Klasky, who had divorced him in 1986. Klasky was shot on April 7, 1989, with a 12-gauge shotgun in Pascagoula. Graham had been turned down for parole in 1999, 2001 and 2006 before Barbour suspended his sentence in 2008. 

 

Graham had been working as a trusty at the Governor''s Mansion, and Barbour said it was "the custom" of governors to cut short the sentences of the mansion''s inmate workers if they behave. 

 

Sen. Billy Hewes, a Republican from Gulfport, added the language about a unanimous vote by the board. 

 

"If they committed one of these horrible crimes, they better get everybody in agreement," Hewes said. 

 

Senate Corrections Chairman Willie Simmons, a Democrat from Cleveland, voted against the changes, saying the state Parole Board was capable of reviewing an inmates'' records to determine if release was acceptable. 

 

An attempt to amend the bill to make the parole board expire Aug. 1 was defeated. Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee, a Republican from Tupelo, said his proposal was meant to give negotiators the opportunity to reconstitute the board. 

 

Nunnelee said he was upset by the board''s 3-2 vote to parole Hodgkin, who was convicted in 1987 of capital murder in the death of Jean Elizabeth Gillies, a University of Mississippi graduate student. 

 

Hodgkin, of Winchester, Ky., was a junior business major at Ole Miss at the time of the slaying. Gillies, 24, was a graduate student in speech pathology. 

 

Hodgkin hasn''t been released yet. The state is awaiting approval from Kentucky to accept and supervise him. 

 

"Maybe they can justify their decision. Apparently they have the attitude ... we''re not going to discuss this and it''s going to go away," Nunnelee said. 

 

But Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, who was a member of the state Parole Board from 1997 to 2000, defended the panel''s work. She said whenever the board voted to parole an inmate, "we made somebody mad." 

 

She said the members meet with the families and scour the record of inmates being considered for release. She said the growing inmate population has increased the number of hearings. 

 

The Parole Board''s current members are Shannon Warnock, Bobbie Thomas, Clarence Brown, Betty Lou Jones and Danny Guice. 

 

The Senate voted 26-20 against Nunnelee''s amendment aimed at forcing House-Senate negotiators to consider purging the board and bringing in new members. 

 

Sen. Gary Jackson, R-Kilmichael, was the only area legislator voting for the amendment. 

 

Sens. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, and Sampson Jackson, D-Preston, voted against the amendment. 

 

Sens. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, and Hob Bryan, D-Amory, did not vote. 

 

The bill is House Bill 2.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment Sarah Mosby commented at 4/8/2010 5:46:00 PM:

I've got a news article for y'all. It's amazing how the State can pardon and suspend the sentences of these men with previous convictions, and histories of violent or sexual crimes yet, my mother, Deborah Mosby, was convicted of Homicide in 1992, given a life sentence and has gone up for parole 4 times (in which all hearings were denied). The confusion and lack of acknowledgement to her case in comparison to others whom are approved by the parole board are in abundance;

-Thorough participation in several rehabilitation programs, volunteer programs, teaching classes, and church programs
-No crimes committed while incarcerated
-No escape history
-No history of drug or Alcohol abuse
-No juvenile record
-No prior offenses (neither misd. nor felony)
-No psychological history or reports to date
-No disciplinary offenses since 1992 (with the exception of one RVR)
-No previous offenses
-Entire Community Support of her release
Both Co-Defendants have been released 3 years prior to current date.

After learning about each case that is being pardoned and paroled by the board, it's a wonder why this woman, who was not even present at the murder she was convicted of, is still "stuck in the system" (so to speak). My mother has records of her vigorous help within the prison system, teaching classes, church, preparing both requested and non requested essentials for any government branch, and has done everything in her power to initiate an extremely positive and truly remarkable determination to live life to the fullest. She has come to acceptance with her wrongs, and has shown more positive change than most inmates can vouch for.

So why is it that these men who have histories of violent/sexual crimes are being pardoned, while there are hard-working, and very qualified individuals being denied parole every two years?

I have written to the parole board, the corrections directors, and met with the state senators regarding this issue. I believe the governor has the right idea, but he is aiming in the wrong direction. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail or phone regarding this topic, and I will be more than willing to discuss and share the numerous pieces of evidence pertaining to my mother's case, and why it is highly qualified for parole, yet continuously denied.

I'm no expert, but I've done my research, growing up without my mother. Doesn't it seem a little fishy?

Sincerely,

Sarah Mosby
770-598-8329

 

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