Lawsuit filed to stop second parole hearings

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) – Kentucky’s attorney general challenged a new state parole board rule Friday, claiming the policy gives “the worst of the worst” a second chance at having life-in-prison sentences cut short.

The rule applies to dozens of inmates, including convicted murderers. Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a lawsuit in Laurel County Circuit Court asking a judge to invalidate the policy.

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“This new directive is a startling reversal by the board that not only disregards the rights of crime victims, but it fails to follow the law,” Cameron said.

The rule sparked an outcry from prosecutors statewide. Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele joined Cameron in filing the suit.

It takes aim at the rule limiting the parole board’s ability to order a prisoner to serve out a life sentence at an initial parole eligibility hearing. The directive grants a new parole hearing to more than 40 prisoners previously ordered by the board to serve out life sentences for such crimes as murder, rape and kidnapping.

The suit said those inmates — which it calls ‘the worst of the worst’’ — were “rightfully sentenced” to life in prison. New hearings would force victims’ families ”to relive these terrible crimes,” Cameron said.

State corrections officials said they can’t comment on pending litigation.

“The crime victims and their families affected by this directive have already gone through the excruciating process of one Parole Board hearing, and they were given assurance by the Board that those responsible for carrying out heinous and violent crimes would spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole,” said Cameron.

The lawsuit claims that the Parole Board lacks the legal authority to issue the directive and that it failed to follow the administrative regulation process set by state law that involves legislative review and a public comment period.

According to the lawsuit, “the Board issued its directive covertly without notifying Commonwealth’s Attorneys or the public, including the crime victims.”

“The Parole Board’s action to adopt this directive without notifying the victims or prosecutors involved in these cases is unacceptable,” said Jackie Steele, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the 27th Judicial Circuit. “Commonwealth’s Attorneys throughout Kentucky prosecuted the violent offenders involved here, and judges and juries throughout the state saw fit to impose life sentences.  The Parole Board reviewed these cases, agreed to the need for a life sentence, and told the victims that these individuals would spend the rest of their lives in prison.  To reverse course now is unconscionable.”

The lawsuit pursues a restraining order and a preliminary and permanent ruling against the directive. If the directive stands, some prisoners previously ordered to serve their life sentences are supposed to get another parole eligibility hearing possibly in July.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Pulaski County by Commonwealth’s Attorney David Dalton.