Tuesday, May 5, 2020
More updates on Virginia reopening, local elections, and parole
By Senator Mark Obenshain
Last week, the Governor unveiled his partial plan for reopening Virginia as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially Northam’s Health Commissioner was quoted as saying that the first phase of this plan would last two years with measures such as continued use of face coverings, teleworking and only some businesses reopening.
I wanted to see what Virginians’ opinions were of that so I ran a poll on my Facebook page asking people to react to the claim that we would be in phase one for potentially two years. In 48 hours, over 5,700 people responded with 95% saying they thought two years was too long.
Apparently, the Governor's office received feedback. Since then, they walked back their two-year projection and have announced that as of today, the ban on non-emergency/elective medical procedures will be lifted.
Earlier this week, I along with the rest of the Republican Senate Caucus leadership team sent a letter to Governor Northam demanding further answers and clarity on his plan to reopen Virginia. You can read that HERE. Stay tuned on if he responds and what his answer will be.
I’ve sent emails in the past regarding the Governor’s attempts to completely circumvent local autonomy by moving all May local elections to line up with Presidential, U.S. Senate and Congressional elections in November. Thankfully, in last week’s reconvened session, the Senate defeated that measure on a strong bipartisan vote.
Integrity of local elections saved.
The Governor has since used his executive authority to move the date of the elections back to weeks from May 5 to May 19 and those with health concerns can safely cast absentee ballots.
A few weeks ago, I wrote on Facebook about the Virginia Parole Board’s decision to release Vincent Martin, a convicted murderer who killed a Richmond police officer in 1979. You can read the article covering the Parole Board’s decision by clicking HERE.
I wish I could say that this was the only decision by the Virginia Parole Board in recent weeks that caught my eye. Sadly, this is not the case.
In 2012, Debra Scribner was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a murder in connection with the shooting death of her son-in-law in Halifax County. She had barely served a third of her sentence and the parole board did not even follow proper procedures in coming to the decision to release her. Read more coverage of the Scribner release by clicking HERE.
Thirdly, it was recently reported that Tyson Xavier Golden was granted release in January with certification coming March 30. He was one of three men charged after a string of violent home invasions in Roanoke that culminated in the beating to death of 91-year-old Larry White. Three blows from the butt of a pistol fractured White’s skull. Read more about that case by clicking HERE.
Finally, there is inmate Robert Clark who is serving multiple life sentences for capital murder, robbery and two counts of use of a firearm from a 1994 conviction in Halifax County. The Parole Board granted him parole on April 10 and his release back into the community is scheduled for May 4.
There was reporting in three of the aforementioned instances of the Parole Board not following proper procedures in notifying the Commonwealth’s Attorney in the county or city in which the crime occurred (required by VA Code section 53.1-136).
Further, the Governor is reportedly now trying to give people the impression that the only prisoners being released these days are nonviolent offenders. That could not be farther from the truth. The Governor proposed language purportedly aimed at reducing prison populations to address the COVID-19 crisis. That language, granted authority to the Department of Corrections to immediately release to any prisoner with less than one year remaining on his sentence prisoners, except those convicted of a class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense, . The only class 1 felony in Virginia is capital murder. On a party line vote in the Senate, Democrats approved this language amendment. That means that people convicted of first degree or second-degree murder, armed robbery, drug distribution and malicious wounding, among many others are immediately eligible for release.
The policy implications of the Governor’s budget amendments coupled with the decisions by his parole board to release dangerous murderers back onto Virginia’s streets is appalling. I will be doing everything in my power to prevent the parole or early release of violent and dangerous felons.
Since the abolition of Virginia’s liberal and lenient system of parole in the 1990s, communities across Virginia have been safer. When juries have given a convicted murderer a life sentence, they have done so with confidence that life means life. We can’t return to that old and broken system.