Monday, April 7, 2014

Virginia Parole Board Reverses Decision on Elderly [Sex] Offender

The below article is a follow up to an earlier story and editorial that were posted on this blog. 

I sat down with now retired Senator Quayle’s Legislative Assistant back in 2010. 

I’m glad he saw this situation was not just wrong but cruel. 

Thank you Fred Quayle! 

Mary Devoy

Parole board reverses decision on elderly offender, April 7, 2014   By Louis Hansen

The state Parole Board on Monday reversed its decision on Willie Jefferson Combo Jr., granting supervised release to the elderly man who was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender. 

Keeping Combo in prison longer, Parole Board member Fred Quayle said Monday, "didn't seem fair." 

Quayle, a former state senator, said he asked his colleagues to reconsider Combo's case after it was profiled in The Virginian-Pilot last week. The story, he said, described the case in greater detail than the summary given to board members. 

Quayle said he initially voted for Combo to be released on supervised probation, but he was overruled. 

The board's reversal will allow Combo to return to his home in Norfolk. He is still in Norfolk City Jail but will likely be released within a week. 

Combo, 68, was convicted last year of failing to register as a sex offender. In February, the state board revoked his parole and returned him to prison. Combo said he forgot to submit his monthly certified letter to Virginia State Police in July.  

Other than twice failing to register with state police, Combo has no other criminal record in 14 years. 

He was convicted of attempted rape in 1966 and served 33 years in prison. 

Combo's case highlights the state's difficulty dealing with older sex offenders. Critics say the law sends low-risk offenders to prison, a costlier alternative to supervision. The number of offenders on the state sex registry has nearly doubled since 2005, to more than 20,000. The list includes about 2,400 in South Hampton Roads. About 80 percent of the offenders are labeled violent by the state and are required to reregister monthly for their entire lives. The registrations allow police and the public to track offenders. 

The Parole Board considers more than 3,000 cases per year, and nearly all are rejected. It handles appeals from inmates who committed serious crimes before the state abolished parole in 1995.

Quayle said he felt that Combo had served a long sentence for his crime and deserved a closer look for parole. 

Combo admitted that he assaulted the woman in 1966, but he denied that he tried to rape her. The same conviction today carries a sentence of between two and 10 years. 

He was granted parole in 1999 and worked in a Richmond hospital. He moved to Norfolk in 2007 to be closer to his family, and thought he had approval from his parole officer. But Combo failed to also notify state police, and he was convicted of failing to register in 2008. He spent two more years in prison. 

Combo receives disability. He has trouble remembering his own phone number and often locks himself out of his apartment. His lawyer estimated that Combo met his monthly registration responsibility 166 of 168 times. 

Combo said a pink receipt for a registered letter was buried in his mailbox for days last July. He didn't realize until too late that he had not contacted the state police. 

Norfolk Circuit Judge Charles E. Poston reviewed Combo's case last year and sentenced him to time served. Poston wrote in his case file, "Defendant has registered as required since 1999. He has missed 2 months in this period. He served 33 years for this charge. He is no danger to the public. Incarceration of this defendant is a waste of the taxpayers' money."

But Combo remained in jail for violating one condition of his parole - monthly registration as a sex offender. 

Family members said they would help Combo fulfill his registration requirements with the state. 

"Thank God," Combo said Monday from Norfolk jail. "I appreciate it."