A Parole Eligibility Hearing in California - - What to Expect
By Ralph Myers
Sometimes it seems that the passage of time has passed by slowly, like the grains of sand dropping from the top of an hour glass to the bottom. As each grain drops representing the passing moments of our lives, seconds, hours, days, months and years since my son Tom's murder I suddenly am forced to realize that it has been nineteen years since that fateful and horrible night in July of 1993.
Nineteen years of grieving, wondering what his life would have been like and of course ours had he not been murdered. Struggling to cope with the loss of him, getting on with our lives as best we could as only a survivor of a murdered loved one can understand. Always knowing that sometime in what once seemed like a distant future would once again arrive and we must be confronted by the very face of evil, Tom's murderer at a parole hearing. Last week, June 5th 2012 that day and time arrived as we made a long journey from where we now live to the Solano California State Prison located in Vacaville, CA.
Once more, old wounds, traumatic memories, emotional pain as well as physical problems resurfaced and any closure many think we should have had when the murderer was sent to prison was non-existent and was a similar experience like an old and festering wound had been reopened.
Some might think and say, "Why did you go what did you accomplish, surely you must have realized the emotional pain you would relive?"
To be candid my wife and I realized this but as I have said countless times during the past nineteen years even though our son was dead we are and always will be his parents and not to go to the hearing giving him a voice that was forever silenced when he was murdered was unthinkable, a no-brainer. Being there for him was yet another act of parenting, trying to make sure the murderer and the parole board was reminded he was much more than a statistic of crime, a victim, he was our son, and to us most importantly arguing his case that a parole should not be granted to his murderer.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans will never have to attend a parole eligibility hearing in their lifetime and we of course never imagined we would ever sit through one as the parents of a murdered son. Sadly, that was what fate had in store for us and I want to describe the process for the benefit of those fortunate ones that never will have to attend a hearing in order to educate the public another example of the plights of crime victim survivors. Or as an example for those victims that will have to go through this process.
Notification to victims:
When our son's murderer was convicted and sentenced in a California Superior Court as victim survivors and according to the victim's rights granted us in the California State Constitution we would be notified by the state's department of corrections of the following; prisoner's escape from prison, death while incarcerated and notification of any parole eligibility hearings which we had the right to attend. The Office of Victim's Assistance a part of the department of corrections was the responsible agency to notify us providing we had given them our names, addresses and telephone numbers by submitting the information to them on the form that was provided to us. Naturally, we complied with this requirement.
At least ninety days before the scheduled parole eligibility hearing the California Department of Corrections (CDC) is required to notify a victim of the pending hearing the date, time and place of the hearing. Victim must provide the CDC with required identification information so you can be cleared to enter the prison where the hearing will take place. Also, the CDC will advise you of the type of clothing that can be worn and what you will be allowed to bring with you to the hearing and what is prohibited.
In the case of the hearing my wife and I attended it was presided over by Parole Board Commissioner and an assistant commissioner. The people of the state of California were represented by a Deputy District Attorney from the county in which the crime occurred (in this case Los Angeles County.) Also there was a member of the Office of Victims Assistance in attendance as our representative as well as my wife and me.
As this was the inmate's parole eligibility hearing he was present and was represented by an attorney.
The Parole Board Commissioners follow a strict agenda as they review the prisoner's record since he has been incarcerated. They make note of any special positive achievements he has done while in prison, read letters of support for him as well as go over organizations that are willing to give him a place to live and a job should he be granted parole. The prisoner must show proof in advance of the hearing that if paroled he does indeed have a job and a place to live, without it there will not be a hearing conducted.
The commissioners also go over any prison misconduct or violations that have been entered on his prison record and will ask him about them. The prisoner is treated with respect and dignity but the commissioners will ask him pointed and tough questions about the crime he committed and he will be given a chance to address the commissioners.
After the prisoner and his attorney have had their chance to speak at the hearing the Deputy District Attorney who is representing the people of the State of California will review the crime committed, trial proceedings and generally make an argument as to why it is in the public safety's best interest that the prisoner be denied parole.
The next step in the procedure is for the prisoner's attorney, the deputy district attorney to make their closing statement before the parole board commissioners. After this process is completed it was our turn to address the commissioners and to give our victim's impact statement and to express our feelings about whether parole should be granted. Once we were finished the hearing is concluded and the commissioners deliberate their decision, which they reach immediately after the hearing. Once they have reached their decision all parties are called back into the hearing room where they announce their decision.
In California a ballot initiative was approved by the voters (Prop 9) Marcy's Law* which gave victim's additional rights in the California Constitution. Listed among those rights were those that stipulated the length between an inmate's parole eligibility hearings if parole is denied at a hearing. The California Parole Board has the discretion of allowing another parole hearing in as little as three years or for as long as 5, 7, and 10 and fifteen years. In the hearing we had just attended on behalf of our son Tom his murderer was denied parole and was given a term of 7 years before he would once again be eligible for a parole eligibility hearing. He is currently serving a 30 year to life sentence for a 1st degree murder conviction for the murder of our son Tom Myers.
At this hearing my wife and I with the skill and help of the Deputy District Attorney from Los Angeles County were successful. Whether we will prevail at the next hearing seven (7) years from now is anyone's guess and Tom's murderer can be assured if at that time we are still living and able to travel we will be there as no amount of good deeds, certificates earned or programs participated in will ever bring back Tom and he should remain in prison for the rest of his natural life.
Finally, as a victim it is very troubling and disconcerting to know that the current Governor of California Jerry Brown has instructed his appointed members of the Parole Board that when conducting a hearing they are only to consider the behavior of the person having the hearing and not the severity of the crime they committed. To me and to all other victims that will have to endure the process we have just gone through Governor Brown's instructions are an egregious assault on victim's justice and an outrage. He should be ashamed of himself and I hope and pray no one from his family will ever become a murder victim.
*Marcy's Law is named after the daughter of our good friend and co-founders of Justice for Homicide Victim's a California based Victim's Rights organization Marcella and Robert Leach. Mr. Leach (Bob) is now deceased. After the murder of our son Tom my wife and I became active in this organization and are currently on its Advisory Board of Directors. You can find out more about this organization by going to their website justiceforhomicidevictims.net