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Governor Fails to Halt Parole for Kidnapper

Prisons: The state board upholds a previously scheduled Dec. 23 release date for a man serving a life sentence.

October 12, 2000|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — State parole officials on Wednesday overrode objections by Gov. Gray Davis and upheld the scheduled Dec. 23 release of convicted life-term kidnapper Tommy Davis.

Commissioners of the state Board of Prison Terms balked, however, at letting the 34-year-old convict walk free immediately, as demanded by his attorney.

But the action by board members, who are gubernatorial appointees, went down badly with the governor, who had urged that the convict be denied parole.

"I disagree strongly with the board's decision," the governor said in a statement. He noted that the inmate had participated in an "ugly and heinous crime that resulted in the rape and kidnapping of a 19-year-old woman."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 13, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Parole--A story Thursday about the parole of convicted kidnapper Tommy Davis gave an incorrect reason why Gov. Gray Davis could not reverse a decision by the Board of Prison Terms to free the inmate. In kidnapping cases, Davis is limited by law to either affirming the parole date or returning the issue to the full board for reconsideration.

Because the release was scheduled before he took office, Gov. Davis is prohibited from reversing the board's decision.

Taken behind closed doors, the action was the sixth this year in which the board has upheld a release date for a life-term kidnapper or murderer. In each case, the prisoner's parole has been opposed by the governor.

Both Gov. Davis and the board are under criticism from Democrats in the Legislature and prisoners' rights activists for thwarting the release of life-term murderers and kidnappers who, their advocates say, have earned parole.

Shortly after taking the governor's office, centrist Democrat Davis, an advocate of the death penalty, warned convicted murderers that they could forget about getting out of prison on his watch.

Although the governor's aides insisted it wasn't so, critics charged that the hard line amounted to an illegal no-parole policy. In one case, the courts took the highly unusual step of ordering the board to set a parole date for a murderer.

But in an apparent relaxation of his practice, the governor last month upheld a Dec. 8 parole date for Rose Ann Parker, a convicted murderer. A few days later, Jane Woods walked out of the Chowchilla prison for women, the first convicted murderer to be released on parole by the Davis administration.

The case of Tommy Davis, a former senior and outstanding football player at Southern Oregon College, drew special interest because he compiled an excellent record while in prison for his part in a violent armed robbery, rape and kidnapping in Sacramento in 1987.

Twice in the mid-1990s, Tommy Davis was denied parole, but in 1998 a hearing panel of three commissioners found him suitable for release two days before Christmas in 2000.

However, the full board subsequently intervened and ordered a hearing to consider canceling the release. He survived that hearing in August, but Gov. Davis refused to go along and ordered the full board to take yet another look.

On Wednesday, the board took public testimony from the fiancee of Tommy Davis, went behind closed doors to consider the issue and later informed his attorney, Keith Wattley, that the original Dec. 23 date would stand.

But the board refused to act on Wattley's demand that his client be released from San Quentin immediately because he had accrued at least nine months in credits for good behavior that can be subtracted from his release date.

Wattley said board Chairman David Hepburn told him the board was not satisfied that applying the credits so close to the Dec. 23 release date was legal. He said the board would need more time to decide the issue.

"That's just not acceptable," Wattley told reporters outside Hepburn's office. "This guy is overdue for release."

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