John Caher, Director of Public Information, (518) 457-8415
For immediate release: Friday, Nov. 6, 2009
On anniversary of Jenna Grieshaber’s murder, Governor Paterson Calls on Legislature to Close Loophole
Glitch in law makes some A-1 felons eligible for parole earlier than intended
On the twelfth anniversary of the murder of Jenna Grieshaber, the victim's mother joined Governor David A. Paterson and law enforcement officials in urging the Legislature to immediately correct a legal anomaly that makes some violent felons eligible for parole and medical parole far earlier than intended by the sentencing court.
"Jenna was murdered in Albany12 years ago today and it is a very, very difficult day for me," said Janice Grieshaber Geddes, who learned of the sentencing glitch just last night. "Encountering something like this makes it all the more difficult. When I hear of errors or omissions in legislation that may allow someone who commits an egregious crime to be out on the streets, it nauseates me."
Mrs. Geddes' 22-year-old daughter, Jenna, a nursing student from the Syracuse area, was killed by Nicholas Pryor, a paroled violent felon, in Albany on Nov. 6, 1997. That incident led to the enactment of "Jenna's Law," which requires violent felons to serve their entire sentence. But Mrs. Geddes said yesterday that a remaining glitch in the state's sentencing structure could result in the early release of some violent felons.
"We absolutely need to change this law to make sure these loopholes are closed to ensure the public safety throughout the state," Mrs. Geddes said.
Although New York sentencing law requires most repeat felons to serve sentences for new crimes consecutive to those for older crimes, the most serious offenses - such as murder, kidnapping, arson and repeat child sexual assaults – were inadvertently excluded. Governor Paterson has introduced legislation to close that loophole and is urging the Legislature to take action when it returns to Albany Tuesday for a special session.
At a press conference Friday, Mrs. Geddes was joined by Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise E. O'Donnell, Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green and Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan in urging prompt legislative action. Mr. Green said the consequences of the legal anomaly are evident in a case from Rochester.
That case involves Stanley Washington, who served 14 years of an 8 1/3-to-25 year sentence for beating a woman with a hammer and forcing her to perform a sexual act. While out on parole, Mr. Washington murdered a woman in Monroe County. He was convicted and the judge imposed the maximum sentence, 25-years-to-life in prison, stating in court that the defendant should spend every day behind bars that the law permits. However, since the judge did not specifically indicate that the sentence on the murder should be consecutive to the sodomy sentence, Mr. Washington was credited for the 14 years he had served for the sex offense. Consequently, instead of having to wait 25 years before he could be considered for parole, the defendant became eligible for parole after only 11 years.
"Because of the way the law is written right now, Stanley Washingon actually receives a benefit because he committed murder rather than a lesser crime," Mr. Green said. "This is clearly an anomaly in the law that needs to be fixed, and the proposal put forth by the Governor is an absolute fix. It would make sure that this does not happen again. I fully support it, the fhe family of Washington's victim supports it, and we intend to do everything we can to help the Governor get this passed. Because of this sentencing absurdity, the victim's family must endure the possibility every other year that Mr. Washington will be released."
Deputy Secretary O'Donnell said: "Currently, there is a serious loophole in the senencing law that allows some of the most serious offenders -- murders, arsonists, repeat child sexual offenders -- to become eligible for parole and medical parole much earlier than the law would ordinarily permit, affording them a windfall that is not available to less serious offenders. It is critically important that this loophole be closed, and closed now. It is critically important for the public safety that the Legislature pass this bill on Tuesday."
The Deputy Secretary observed that making a violent felon eligible for parole several years earlier than the court or law intended places an unfair hardship on the survivors.
"Regardless of whether these individuals are actually granted parole, when they become eligible for parole 10 or more years earlier than anyone intended, the family has to go through the entire process and, every two years, relive the crime," Deputy Secretary O'Donnell said.
District Attorney Hogan, who serves as president of the District Attorneys' Association of the State of New York, said: "The DA's Association is strongly in support of this legislation and is very, very grateful that Governor Paterson has put this on the agenda for the special session on Tuesday. Now, if someone is out on parole and commits a murder he or she receives a 'credit' for the time served on a prior case. It makes absolutely no sense and is contrary to the public safety. The Governor's legislation eliminates this loophole and treats murderers like every other violent felon who commits a crime while on parole."
Governor Paterson's bill would mandate that sentences for A-I felons be served consecutively to any time left to be served on a previous sentence – just like every other repeat felony offense. Additionally, the bill requires that inmates who must serve half of their sentence before becoming eligible for medical parole actually serve half of their sentence.