Virginia attorney general accuses former parole chief of misconduct


RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) released a report Wednesday that accuses the former chairwoman of the state parole board of failing to follow procedures in allowing about 134 offenders to be released from custody in 2020.

Miyares says that some of the chairwoman’s violations could have been subject to prosecution but notes the statute of limitations has run out.

The 69-page report fulfills a request from Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who like Miyares campaigned on promising to clean house at the board over allegations about its conduct during the coronavirus pandemic.

A state inspector general had faulted the parole board under then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for releasing inmates without following procedures for notifying local prosecutors or the families of victims. But an outside law firm hired by the Northam administration found that the investigator who prepared the inspector general’s report was biased and did not use thorough practices.

Outside firm faults Virginia inspector general investigator for likely bias in report related to actions of state parole board

The latest report from Miyares offers more details, charging that 130 of the released inmates had been convicted of violent crimes. He said the parole board failed to properly notify victims or their families 83 times in March and April of that year.

The report says the board failed to properly notify local commonwealth’s attorneys 66 times during that period.

It accuses former board chairwoman Adrianne Bennett, who is now a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge in Virginia Beach, with falsifying discharge records in the cases of three convicted murderers and violating eight court orders that had deemed certain inmates “ineligible for discretionary parole.”

“These violations of the law cannot be criminally prosecuted because … the applicable statute of limitations has lapsed,” the Miyares report says.

A former spokesman for Northam could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Diane Toscano, an attorney for Bennett, issued a statement on her behalf: “The Office of Attorney General has cherry picked a time period for scrutiny which happens to have taken place during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. In all cases of parole, Judge Bennett was but one vote of the board. This report grossly targeted her. Judge Bennett is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction on the bench, on the parole board, and as a respected attorney in the Virginia Beach legal community for decades. No attempt to vilify her changes that.”

The report claims that one of the released inmates committed 15 new violent felonies, and that overall, at least 10 people were victimized by crimes as a result of the 134 being let out of prison.

Virginia abolished parole in 1995, but people convicted of crimes before that date were still eligible for early release. Those who remained in prison in 2020 were serving lengthy sentences, often for violent crimes.

That year the Northam administration encouraged prisons to release older and ailing inmates where possible to avoid concentrating cases of the coronavirus in state facilities. The Miyares report claims the coronavirus was not a reason to release this group of inmates.

One inmate the board decided to release was Vincent L. Martin, 63, sentenced to life in prison for killing Richmond police officer Michael P. Connors in 1979. When word got out, the law enforcement community expressed outrage. Martin’s release was delayed, but it proceeded in June.

In August 2020, a state inspector general issued a six-page report saying that the board — and Bennett in particular — had failed to follow state law requiring that victims’ family members and local prosecutors be notified of a pending release at least 21 days in advance. By then, former Portsmouth police chief Tonya Chapman had replaced Bennett as parole board chairwoman. She issued a detailed rebuttal of the inspector general’s findings.

Youngkin issued an executive order removing every member of the board a year ago on his first day in office. Anticipating the move, the members resigned before his inauguration.

This year, Republicans in the General Assembly have filed several bills aimed at increasing transparency on the board by requiring periodic reports and setting guidelines for conduct.

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