RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The expected release Monday of a man convicted in the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer was put on hold amid an investigation by Virginia's government watchdog agency into the parole board's handling of the inmate's case, state officials said.
The slain officer's sister, Maureen Clements, told The Associated Press that the Virginia Parole Board notified her Monday morning that Vincent L. Martin would not be released as scheduled. Martin was sentenced to life in prison for killing patrolman Michael P. Connors, who was shot in the head during a traffic stop.
State officials later explained that a temporary hold had been placed on Martin's release due to an ongoing administrative investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General.
The decision to grant Martin parole has sparked an uproar in the law enforcement community, and both Connors’ family and Richmond’s top prosecutor have asked the board to rescind its decision.
On Sunday, four Republican lawmakers wrote to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, asking him to intervene, as did the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
“This will allow the removal of the cloud that has formed over this parole decision,” Brian Moran, the state's secretary of public safety and homeland security, said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Parole Board Chair Tonya Chapman, who took over that role after the decision had been made in the Martin case, said in a statement that the hold on Martin's release would be for no more than 30 days. She said the inspector general's office would be investigating whether the board followed state law and other policies and procedures in its decision-making process, but not the board's ultimate decision.
State officials have said the parole board has accelerated its work amid the coronavirus pandemic. It has recently granted the release of dozens of violent offenders, including killers, rapists and kidnappers, blindsiding many prosecutors and victims’ families who say they were not properly notified as required by law, according to an Associated Press review of recent cases.
Howard Hall, who is chief of the Roanoke County Police Department and president of the police chiefs' association, said the investigation by the inspector general office is “desperately needed.”
“The parole board appears not to be following the procedures that are in the code or even allowing victims to have their right to be heard, so how is this acceptable?” he said.
“At some point, you have to say, well, what's going on over there?”
Clements said she filed a complaint with the inspector general, has had multiple conversations with the office and has been told it is investigating not only the board’s handling of the Martin case but several others.
The office does not comment on pending investigations, spokeswoman Kate Hourin said.
Former parole board chair Adrianne Bennett, who recently left that role to become a judge, released a lengthy statement last month defending the board's decision to release Martin. In it, she wrote that Martin “has demonstrated himself over the decades to be a trusted leader, peacemaker, mediator and mentor in the correctional community” and has been infraction-free for more than 30 years. Martin has always maintained his innocence, wrote Bennett, who has not responded to interview requests.
Martin declined an interview request sent through the Department of Corrections.
Clements said the situation has been devastating for her close-knit family, including her elderly parents.
She said they received a letter in March notifying them that Martin was up for review by the parole board. She said that was the first time her family had ever been contacted by the board, despite the fact that Martin had been considered numerous times.
State code says the parole board must “endeavor diligently” to contact the victim before making any decision to release an inmate on discretionary parole, and the definition of a victim in a homicide includes relatives.
Clements said Monday she was pleased that Martin's release had been delayed. But she remained frustrated about what she described as a continuing lack of communication from the board. She said her family had not received even an acknowledgement of their request for reconsideration of the parole grant.
“What a travesty,” she said.
An earlier version of this story was corrected to remove a mention of Martin's case being handled by the board in March. His name does not appear among the board's March decisions.