VIRGINIA’S recognition of the 58th annual National Police Week—initially authorized by an act of Congress, with a proclamation signed by President John F. Kennedy—appeared to be less than wholehearted, judging from a recent decision by the Virginia Parole Board and subsequent inaction by Gov. Ralph Northam.
In 2019, the General Assembly approved legislation to ensure that those convicted of the capital murder of a law-enforcement officer would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment. Gov. Northam subsequently signed Senate Bill 1501, and it became state law on July 1, 2019.
I sponsored Senate Bill 1501 after a 36-year sentence was given to Travis Ball in the slaying of Virginia State Police Special Agent Michael Walter. A circuit judge in Richmond awarded Ball a reduced sentence due to his troubled past. But the pain and anguish suffered by the Walter family, which they will bear for the rest of their lives, was not given such consideration.
Now, less than a year after it became law, the Parole Board has approved the early release of the murderer of Richmond police officer Michael Connors.
Vincent Lamont Martin, who repeatedly shot Officer Connors, received a life sentence for his crime. Disregarding the gravity of Martin’s crime and disrespecting the family of Officer Connors, the Parole Board unilaterally determined that a life sentence needn’t last that long.
As the patron of Senate Bill 1501, I am appalled by the actions of the Parole Board in approving the release of Vincent Lamont Martin. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that once a court gave a killer life without parole, a liberal Parole Board would set the murderer free regardless of who he killed.
Employing the same misguided standards as the judge who awarded a lenient sentence in the murder of Special Agent Walter, the Parole Board is undermining justice and circumventing the law by putting convicted murderers back out on the street before the completion of their sentences.
In releasing Martin, the Parole Board asserted that the officer’s murderer had become a model citizen, albeit in the severely and strictly controlled environment of incarceration. This reasoning isn’t just flawed, it is an insult to all the families of murder victims.
Just like countless other families of victims across Virginia, the families of murdered law enforcement officers will no longer believe our justice system is fair when the killers of their loved ones are unjustly set free. Effectively, a life sentence now doesn’t mean life, as the system cynically allows a period of time to pass in hopes the bad memories fade away.
Then, in proceedings victims’ families were not given an opportunity to attend, the killers of their loved ones are released back into society.
Only a handful of legislators opposed Senate Bill 1501 when it passed during the 2019 session. Gov. Northam signed the legislation into law during a ceremony in which he consoled the widows of slain police officers. But the sympathies he expressed that day appear to be meaningless now as he fails to act to halt the Parole Board from releasing Office Connors’ murderer.
During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Northam has expressed his unwavering support for our first responders. But those words of support ring hollow when he simultaneously ignores the pain of the families of murdered first responders.
And by allowing killers sentenced to life imprisonment to be freed, he renews and extends the pain of those families.
Gov. Northam should act now to halt the release of Vincent Lamont Martin—not just for the next 30 days, but permanently.
Justice demands that the governor—and the Parole Board he appointed—recognize that a life sentence means life. The rights of victims’ families should be respected, and their lifetime of loss should not be ignored.
Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, Sr. is a retired Virginia State Police trooper who served in King George County from 1985 to 1994. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2002, and represented the 40th District in the Senate of Virginia from 2012 to 2020.