Thursday, June 18, 2015

Virginia Supreme Court Appeal: Ailing 81-year-old Sex Offender Inmate was on His Way to Geriatric Release Last Year When His Case Disappeared from a State Computer System

Inmate, 81, claims wrongdoing in failed bid for release, June 18, 2015
By Frank Green
Lawyers for an imprisoned, ailing 81-year-old sex offender contend he was on his way to geriatric release last year when his case disappeared from a state computer system. 

When it reappeared a few weeks later, the Virginia Parole Board had a new chair and his bid for freedom was turned down. 

An appeal filed in the Virginia Supreme Court last week, supported in part by an affidavit from the former chairman of the parole board, William Muse, accuses the parole board of shenanigans that violated Bonnell Boyd’s rights.

“Boyd was about to receive the necessary number of votes ... when — flagrantly, without authorization and in violation of the Parole Board’s own rules — the voting was improperly manipulated and stopped, then restarted anew weeks after Muse retired,” alleges the 17-page appeal. 

The intent of the computer manipulation, allege Boyd’s lawyers, Jonathan Sheldon of Fairfax and Thomas M. Wolf of Richmond, was to make sure that Muse’s vote would be nullified and Boyd’s release denied.

Karen D. Brown, the parole board chair, declined to comment for this story citing the pending litigation. 

Boyd, however, had plenty to say Monday in an interview at the Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron where many elderly prison inmates are held. 

A Vietnam veteran who served 24 years in the U.S. Marines and retired as a Master Sergeant, Boyd complained, “I’m an old man, 81 years old. I spent enough time in this prison.” 

“Lord, have mercy, I’m ready to go home,” said Boyd, who has cancer, heart issues and other health problems. 

His lawyers are asking the supreme court that he be released immediately to his home in Tennessee and his wife of 58 years, or that an evidentiary hearing be held to find out what happened in his parole case. 

Retired from the service, in 1996 Boyd was a tour bus driver with no criminal record when he was convicted in Henry County of two counts of rape of a child less than 13 years old and one count of object sexual penetration. 

Boyd, who has always denied committing the crimes, was sentenced to 25 years. A 2004 assessment by an expert found that he was a low risk to commit a new crime and two psychiatrists and a psychologist have recommended his release in letters written to the parole board over the years. 

In Virginia — except for capital murderers — inmates at least 60 years old and who have served 10 years or more of their sentence, or those 65 who have served at least five years, can petition the parole board for conditional geriatric release, which is rarely granted. 

Three members of the state’s five-member parole board must vote to grant a geriatric release. 

Boyd was first eligible in 2004 but has been turned down every year. Last year, however, his prospects looked good. 

An affidavit from Muse, who served on the parole board from February 2011 to his retirement July 7, 2014, said that in his three years on the board it voted on nearly 10,000 cases and only one — Boyd’s — did not appear to follow certain agreed upon procedures. 

Muse, with the Virginia Attorney General’s office for 26 years before his service on the parole board, explained that the five members of the board vote individually and in succession on a computer based program called “Corrections Information System,” or CORIS. 

A case does not progress from one member to the next until a vote is cast by the member currently reviewing the case, Muse said in his affidavit. “Once started, voting does not stop or a case be put on hold without a date of action and legitimate explanation posted by an identified Parole Board member or Parole Board staff.” 

“In cases where voting was put on hold for a legitimate reason, any member could go back and change a previously cast vote if new information dictated that he or she do so,” he said. 

Boyd required three “grant” votes to be released. CORIS selected Muse to vote first and he voted to grant release. Muse said the case was discussed informally among board members and he recalled that board member Minor F. Stone voted to grant release and that another member, Sherman P. Lea Sr., was prepared to do so. 

Muse said he did not know what happened in Boyd’s case when he left the board. “I subsequently learned that before Mr. Lea could vote on Mr. Boyd’s case, the case was removed from his computer,” Muse said. 

Jane M. Alford, a certified rehabilitation counselor who represented Boyd before the parole board, said in her affidavit, which closely tracks Muse’s, that Boyd is an excellent candidate for geriatric release because of his age, no prison infractions, has strong family support on the outside and has numerous progressive, serious medical problems.

Alford said that on May 14, 2014, she met with Brown, who would become the board’s chair after Muse retired, to advocate for Boyd’s release. Two new parole board appointees, the Rev. A. Lincoln James and Lea, also attended the May meeting. 

Alford said that following the meeting she repeatedly contacted the board to learn its decision in Boyd’s case but was told without explanation that a decision had not been made. 

Records on the parole board’s website show Boyd’s petition was not rejected until last August. The reasons given were the serious nature of the crime and that release at that point “would diminish the serious nature of the crime.” 

Alford said she was eventually contacted by someone who wished to remain anonymous and who suggested she call Muse. 

Alford alleges the anonymous person told her that following the May 14, 2014, meeting with Brown, CORIS selected Muse to vote first, Lincoln James, who voted “not grant,” second and then selected Lea to vote next. 

“Before Lea could vote, Mr. Boyd’s case was removed from his computer so he could not cast a vote and a “case closed” action was put into CORIS with no date, explanation or indication who initiated the action. 

Alford said that on July 25, 2014, Brown, then the new chair, re-opened the case and initiated new voting starting with herself who voted against release. Boyd eventually lost in a 3-2 vote, Alford said. 

According to the governor’s office, Brown, of Hampton, who had been the board’s vice chair, was a prosecutor in Newport News and Chesapeake Offices of the Commonwealth’s Attorney who concentrated on child abuse and sexual assault cases. 

Alford alleged that, “Had former Chairman Bill Muse’s grant vote not been removed and submitted with Algie Howell’s not grant vote, Mr. Boyd would not have remained in prison.” 

Boyd’s petition to the Virginia Supreme Court alleges his due process rights were violated by an unfair procedure. 

Boyd said Monday that he has had it with the parole board. “I’m certainly upset.” He asks, “Why do they let old men die in here?” 

“I went to Vietnam and I watched young men die, for no reason, really. Then I come back here and I’m 81 years old now and I’m watching old men die for no reason at all. They could die at home and they won’t let ‘em. The man right next to me is dying of cancer and all they have to do is let the poor man go home and die but they won’t do it,” he said. 

Geriatric conditional release was enacted in 1994 because some inmates are too old or ill to pose a likely threat to public safety and their medical costs are significantly higher, according to the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. 

Of the state’s 30,370 inmates, roughly 1,000 are or will soon be eligible for geriatric release, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. 

Parole board figures show that 43 inmates have been granted geriatric release over the past five years, a grant rate of roughly 5 percent.