August 22, 2013 9:49:23 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
A Columbus man sentenced to serve four years in prison as a habitual offender is scheduled to be paroled and live under house arrest after less than six months behind bars.
John Murphy, 59, was sentenced as a habitual offender in February on possession of methamphetamine charges. Murphy has been arrested a dozen times in the last decade and charged with nearly 30 crimes, ranging from stalking to manufacturing methamphetamine. His most recent arrest was in May 2012. He was charged with two counts of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
In February, Murphy pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and a 2011 charge of possession of hydrocodone with intent to distribute. Judge Lee Coleman sentenced Murphy to 20 years behind bars, with 16 years suspended. Since he was sentenced as a habitual offender, Murphy was to serve the entire four-year sentence.
He was transported to the Clay County Jail where he has been serving on a work program.
On Monday, Murphy was granted parole by the Mississippi Parole Board. On Tuesday, an inmate search of the MDOC website listed Murphy's tentative release date as May 2016.
His information has since been removed from the site.
Parole Board chairman Doug Davis could not offer an explanation for Murphy's release and declined to comment on specifics of his parole hearing.
Davis said with 600 inmates granted parole in the state of Mississippi each month, each instance was determined on a "case-by-case basis." Davis added that the parole board does not decide who is eligible for parole and who is not, saying that it is determined by the statute under which the offenders were sentenced.
"The parole board receives people who are up for parole when the guidelines that are outlined in the statute say they are eligible for parole," Davis said.
"We don't determine eligibility. It's not like the parole board could make someone eligible for parole."
When an inmate is up for release, the parole board contacts a list of references provided by the offender.
State senator Terry Brown of Columbus was one of Murphy's references The Dispatch learned.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Brown said he did not know Murphy or the details of his sentence but said he knew Murphy's family, adding that Murphy's sister taught his children.
"I don't know him that well," Brown said. "I said he's from Columbus. I know his family. I don't know what situation he's in or anything like that."
When asked if he recommended Murphy to be put on house arrest, Brown said he told the parole board, "Y'all are the parole board. Y'all do whatever you think you have to."
Brown said being on Murphy's reference list was nothing out of the ordinary for an elected official: "We're on everybody's list," Brown said. "Everybody's list."
The senator added that he gets calls on a "regular basis" from the parole board and inmates asking for help with jail transfers or to be put on house arrest, a number that Brown said was too high to count.
"I couldn't tell you," he said. "We get calls all the time."
Brown reiterated that he was not familiar enough with Murphy's situation to know whether he should be on house arrest.
"I don't know whether he's qualified but evidently the parole board saw fit to put him on house arrest."
Lowndes County Narcotics Unit Commander Bobby Grimes disagreed. He said house arrest is not a proper sentence for a habitual drug offender and noted that Murphy was at his home under supervised probation when he was arrested in 2012.
"What purpose does it serve?" Grimes said. "Last time he was on probation, he was arrested and caught at his house with meth. It doesn't serve as a punishment. Not to us anyway."
Murphy's release date has not yet been determined.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah