LYNCHBURG, Va. — Virginia released roughly 1800 inmates early in the last year, in part, due to the pandemic. Convicted murderers and rapists are among those granted early parole by the Virginia Parole Board.
In 2012, a jury found Debra Scribner guilty of first-degree murder. Investigators said she took part in the plot to kill Eric Wynn and left his body at the bottom of a Halifax County well.
A judge sentenced Scribner to 23 years behind bars. She only served eight– which shocked Kevin Wynn.
“The first time I saw her, I came out of Walmart, got out of my truck and seen her walk by my truck and I was like, ‘There she is!'” Wynn remembered. “There were all kinds of emotions –anger.”
Anger because Wynn had no idea the woman convicted of murdering his brother was granted parole in April 2020.
“I’ve seen her numerous times afterwards,” Wynn said.
Wynn said the Virginia Parole Board didn’t notify him that Scribner was up for parole. He also wasn’t notified she was released on geriatric parole. By law, the parole board is required to do both.
After the fact, he said the parole board emailed him a copy of a letter. He said the board claimed they sent it to the wrong Kevin Wynn in another part of the state.
“I’ve always lived here. Confusing. Yes, very,” Wynn said.
Halifax County Commonwealth Attorney Tracy Q. Martin is confused, too.
Scribner is not the only person convicted of murder in Halifax County granted parole in 2020.
Martin also received notice that Robert Kevin Clark was released
In 1994 a judge sentenced him to two life sentences.
“The victim was shot 13 times,” Martin said.
Martin asked the parole board if they notified the victim’s family about Clark’s release. So far, she’s not received a response.
“Those aren’t the only ones, but those are the worst that I have received notice of,” Martin said. “I think in a typical year, we might see a couple– but certainly no one who had been convicted of rape or murder.”
Additionally, the parole board granted Gregory Joyner early parole. A Lynchburg jury convicted Joyner of murder and the attempted rape of 15-year-old Sarah Jamison in 1989. Joyner has served less than 30 years.
Darreyl Gallier, a member of the victim’s family, said that is not justice.
“He got life plus 10 years and now he’s what, 48-years-old and he’s getting out of jail,” Gallier said. “Sarah doesn’t get to come back here. She’s gone forever.”
While Joyner was granted parole in November; as of February 11, he was still listed as an inmate at the Augusta Correctional Center.
Cases like these caught the eye of Republican State Sens. Steve Newman and Mark Obenshain.
“Releasing people who are murderers and police killers is a dangerous activity,” Newman said.
They’re also concerned some crime victims and Commonwealth attorneys aren’t receiving proper notice about parole hearings, or when an inmate is released– like what happened in the Scribner case in Halifax County.
“The code of Virginia could not be more clear. You have to notify the victims. You have to give them the opportunity to weigh in,” Newman said. “You need to notify the prosecutors. This group has determined they just are not going to follow the law.”
These parole board concerns prompted the State Inspector General to investigate.
“Quite frankly, their defense has been, ‘we didn’t understand,’” Obenshain said. “We feel the first step in correcting these problems is to make clear the rules and also introduce a significant element of sunlight to the process.”
Sen. Obenshain proposed a bill that makes it clear when the parole board must notify the victim’s families and the Commonwealth’s attorney where the inmate was found guilty.
In 2020 the VPB granted 329 inmates early parole. That’s the highest number over the past four years. These are the numbers the VPB released to ABC13 News:
- 2020 — 329 Grants
- 2019 — 183 Grants
- 2018 — 312 Grants
- 2017 — 303 Grants
It’s difficult to figure out how many convicted murderers were released or why they were granted early parole. The parole board’s website only shows you the name, inmate number, age, sex and the kind of parole granted.
“When parole is granted, there is no way for the general public to know if this a person who is in prison for a minor drug offense or whether it’s a convicted capital murderer,” Obenshain said.
Sen. Obenshain also proposed a bill that requires more of that kind of transparency.
In this email from November, Chapman stated, “The Parole Board will not provide further comment to media requests for details on individual cases.”
ABC13 reached out to Chair Chapman again in January and February for an interview. She never responded to those requests.
The only person the parole board answers to is the governor. During a recent sit-down interview with Gov. Ralph Northam, ABC13 asked if he supports the board’s decision to set convicted murderers free.
“As you know a lot of the movement toward these decisions was because of COVID-19. People were in prison, our infection rate is very high,” Northam said. “So the parole board has been very busy. ”
“There’s new leadership there,” Northam said. “They do their homework on these cases, so I support the decisions they make. Again, this is about criminal justice reform.”
“Make no mistake about it,” Newman said. “The governor is flat out wrong about this. He’s standing behind a parole board that is putting Virginians in danger.”
- SB 1104 Parole; notice and certification, monthly reports
- SB 1125 Parole Board; notice of parole of prisoner to victim
- SB 1103 Virginia Freedom of Information Act; Virginia Parole Board member votes
ABC13 also reached out to Debra Scribner to see if she wanted to share her side of being released early on parole. She declined and said, “I am living a simple, peaceful life now. This story will just open another can of worms.”