MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - WSFA 12 News launched an investigation into the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, revealing the number violent inmates up for early parole consideration and those released long before their sentences were served.
The story prompted a large response from viewers and public officials. Gov. Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall scheduled a meeting with the board, and Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey officially called for the board’s removal.
WSFA 12 News also heard from crime victims, concerned their violent offender would soon be free.
One victim, who feared for their safety and requested not to be identified, asked us to attend the parole hearing in October when the board was set to consider the early release of the inmate convicted of killing their brother.
“She stabbed him three times, slashed him 13 times, shot him and wrapped him up in a rug and took him to another county an threw him on the side of the road," the victim stated in an email.
That inmate was sentenced to life in prison for murder only six years ago.
“We were told it would be at least 15 years [before they were up for parole],” they stated.
Other victims like Freddie McCarthy, who lost his daughter to murder, received notice from the Board of Pardons and Paroles that one of the murderers was up for parole consideration in October. Dominique Atkinson was sentenced in 2016.
“I was shocked that it came up as soon as it did,” McCarthy said. “It had just been less than two years. For the crime they committed, it was a shock to me because they got life in prison.”
They asked for our help, and we quickly began pulling criminal histories of the 551 inmates up for parole in October.
At first glance, the number of inmates sentenced to life for murder was staggering. Some of those were sentenced to life in prison within the last five years.
Days after we began working on the second phase of our investigation, we discovered the board’s October docket had been modified.
The original list was now replaced with a new docket with 47 fewer names, without notice. A side-by-side comparison of our spreadsheets showed nearly all those removed were in prison for murder. Thirty-two of those inmates were removed from the first parole docket of the month on Oct. 16, which is the day after the board is scheduled to meet with the governor and attorney general.
“It amazes me every time I think about it," McCarthy said of his daughter’s murder. “It’s like living a nightmare, it keeps going on, and then you get the sequel.”
That sequel came late Tuesday afternoon. McCarthy received a call that Atkinson, one of the inmates serving time for his daughter’s death had been pulled from the docket.
“I thought actually it was a prank call, I didn’t believe it," he said.
For weeks, McCarthy’s been emotionally preparing to protest Atkinson’s early release, mentally reliving the violent loss of his daughter. Still in disbelief, McCarthy called back to the board the next day, just to be sure. The board confirmed Atkinson was no longer up for parole, but they weren’t willing to say why.
“They said they can’t talk about it," McCarthy said he was told on the phone.
WSFA 12 News reached out to the board and was told the names were pulled at the direction of Board Executive Director Eddie Cook for further review, and the notification calls are still going out.
“Most of the cases you are referring to were removed by a directive from the Executive Director," Darrell Morgan, Board Assistant Executive Director, stated in an email. “Although cases were set by the docketing unit in compliance with Board operating rules, Director Cook wanted a review of those set dates prior to moving forward with parole considerations for the affected inmates. All affected parties have been notified or are in the process of being notified. Until further notice, inmates affected by the changed docket will revert back to their original set date.”
McCarthy feels they removed the names under pressure and feels he’s been re-victimized in the process.
As for the inmates who remain on the October docket, WSFA found around 100 violent offenders up for early parole based on the board’s rules. Nearly 60 of those inmates were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.