GA Prosecutors, Victims want a say in Parole Process

Rapists, Child molestors, murderers.

Some of the most violent offenders in chatham county and around georgia are getting out of prison early, and only five people know why.

Now prosecutors, and a local lawmaker are fighting back, wanting answers.

“Its been a horror story, its been an ongoing nightmare, just think about it every day,”  said Barry Brown, Lauren Smart’s Father.

Barry Brown nightmares begin with Norman Smart.

His daughter Lauren was beaten to death by Smart, who is now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

But Lauren’s death could have been avoided.

Norman was given parole in Ohio for domestic violence before he moved to Georgia, before he met Lauren.

Understandably interested in the parole system, Brown watched a recent Georgia parole hearing that was opened to the public.

“That Parole board I witnessed is basically broke,” said Brown. “It needs to be fixed.”

“Its a shadowy world.” said Meg Heap. “We don’t know what you are looking at, we don’t know how you are making your decision, you aren’t telling us,”

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap says she’s tired of being left in the dark about parole for georgia’s most violent offenders.

“Its not like we are asking for Mars here this is something specific to the rest of the criminal justice system, the accountability the transparancy and a voice,” explained Heap.

A voice Heap insists the victims currently don’t have.

In Georgia, the Pardons and Parole board doesn’t tell anyone why they make their decisions to let someone out.

Five people who don’t even meet in the same room make the decision.

They make without hearing from families, prosecutors. What they do hear, no one knows.

“They say its a state secret.”
“What do you say?”
“I cannot fathom..they have never given me an answer that makes sense,” explained Heap

Five people who decide the fate of Georgia’s most violent offenders like Torrey Scott, who was convicted of rape once, and then let out on parole 14 years early.

45 days after he was released

“(Scott) came back and raped another woman and and raped another woman and murdered her. Should never have happened,” said Heap.

Scott is back in prison on four consecutive life terms without parole.

But Heap is worried about other murderers like Delmus Williams.

Williams was convicted in 1983 of murder, released on parole in 2008.

Despite getting arrested for four felonies, he wasn’t put back in prison until 2016.

When prosecutors asked for his disciplinary records from prison…

“We asked for the records while he’s been in prison and they only gave us of 25 year the last, since 2009,” said Heap.

“We discovered he committed 3 new felonies while he was in there, he assaulted another inmate. What we want to know is what else for the other years he’s been in there. They’ve told us it is a state secret. I don’t understand why its a state secret, ”

“This is a guy who’s been convicted of murder, How’s he been doing in prison, does he deserve parole..we no one knows.”

“You aren’t telling us, you refuse to give the District Attorney the prosecutor anything you have, you are hiding it, and I can’t come up with a logical answer nor have i heard a logical answer or heard any answer.”

“I was amazed at the process and I think the average citizen is. the average citizen doesn’t understand why we give someone 20 years and they serve 6.” said Georgia House Representative Jesse Petrea.

That’s why State Representative Jesse Petrea has filed House Bill 34.

It would open the records and the process of the Parole Board and give the families, prosecutors and the inmates themselves a chance to speak

“What you get with more thorough vetting by the community,” said Petrea. “We’re going to see fewer individuals  who are not reallt ready to be released into the community released early. And that’s the way it should be”

And for fathers like Barry Brown, that’s the way he wants it.

“Family should be able to go sit before those board members and look them dead in the eye and say I don’t want him back out,” said Barry Brown.

We sent a list of 10 questions about the process and the role of victims and prosecutors to the Board of Pardons and Parole last Thursday.

They said they got them, and would respond, but i have yet to hear back.

In Atlanta, Governor Nathan Deal is working on a broad criminal justice reform bill right now which may include changes to the pardons and parole system.

Petrea says if it does not fit the bill, his bill will go in front of committee this session, and hopefully then be approved by the full house and senate before another family has to wait and wonder why.

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