The planned parole of a Savannah man convicted in a brutal 1977 murder is still causing waves even though the issue now appears to be final. “I don’t think this is someone we should have back on our streets,” says Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap.
Last month, Heap wrote the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to protest a release date of December 21 for Willie Doyle. The 55 year old inmate has served 38 years in connection with the murder of a 64 year old Savannah woman after being convicted of the crime and sentenced in 1978.
A spokesman for the board told us that as a result of the concern, that board members canceled the release date and reviewed the case again. The spokesman Steve Hayes told us board members “are very familiar with this case and certainly take their responsibilities very seriously.”
Recently, Heap received a letter dated January 4 from the board indicating that the parole would go through at a future date. The letter indicated that Doyle would be required to wear an electric monitor and would be “closely monitored by corrections staff.”
In Doyle’s case, Heap simply feels it’s the wrong move. “If someone is a model citizen that’s one thing, but we discovered he is not a model citizens by any means,” she said.
Heap pointed to a large stack of papers indicating that it was Doyle’s file. “This individual has over 140 disciplinary actions, there are 600 pages of reports against him while he was in prison,” she said.
Heap said that included an allegation of sexual assault against another inmate which she said would have constituted a felony had he been charged.
Hayes told us however that the record alluded to in the media “fails to distinguish between actions which actually resulted in a finding of guilt by the Department of Corrections and those that were dismissed.”
Hayes also said Doyle had not faced any disciplinary action for two years and successfully completed a work release program which is a requirement of parole. Finally, he said that Heap’s office was notified almost a year ago, in February of 2015 that Doyle was on a track for parole and would be on a work release program in Savannah at the Coastal Transitional Center. Hayes said “no protests were received at that time.”
Heap acknowledged that her office knew “Doyle was in Savannah on work release ” but that at the time they were piecing together files from 1978 and trying to determine the issues in the case. “It was more than 30 years ago,” she said.
In December, her office objected to the notification period (five days) given by the Board of Pardons and Paroles which indicated the initial parole date of December 21. The legal requirement in terms of that window of time is 72 hours, according to Hayes.
“Whatever that window time, the real issue is Doyle’s release at all,” Heap said.
Hayes pointed out a number of issues in Doyle’s case including the fact that Doyle was sentenced in 1978 (when just 17 years old) when the law required a review of a case even one carrying a life sentence “every seven years.” He said Doyle had essentially be denied parole ten times.
Hayes also said that board members take great care in cases like these that involve “those with a life sentence and that board members were very familiar with Doyle’s case and his file which includes interviews. observations and recommendations from Department of Corrections staff.”
He also told us that out of some 13,000 paroles considered last year, about 1200 cases involved inmates with life sentences. He says 151 of those prisoners received a parole.
“The board has the constitutional authority to determine which inmates’ early release on parole is compatible with the welfare of society. The board reviews a comprehensive case file and by majority vote, makes a decision,” Hayes wrote to us in an email.
Heap acknowledges that fact. “Of course I realize some inmates will be paroled early but this is egregious in my opinion,” she said. e·
Heap said she will write another letter of protest to the board despite the fact it appears no more reviews of this case will be made.