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Killer Is First to Be Freed During Gov. Davis' Term

Justice: Parole board overrides his objections to the release of an Oakland woman who masterminded the slaying of her abusive boyfriend in 1987.


SACRAMENTO — An Oakland woman imprisoned in the killing of her abusive boyfriend was set free Thursday, becoming the first convicted murderer released by Gov. Gray Davis' administration--and a powerful symbol for thousands who remain behind bars.

Jane Woods, 37, gathered her belongings and walked out of the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla before lunch, state corrections officials confirmed. She was given $200 and some street clothes and was escorted by two parole agents to a relative's home in the East Bay area.

"This is a very exciting day," said Rich Pfeiffer, a Tustin attorney who has been advising Woods. "She's a very deserving person, and I'm sure her future actions will prove it."

Woods was freed over the objections of Davis, who has opposed parole in all but one of the 30 cases sent to him for review by the state parole board.

In a June memo about her case, Davis said Woods should remain locked up because she masterminded the 1987 killing of Richard Davis and "incited" two acquaintances to carry it out.

But state parole commissioners disagreed with the governor's opinion. In late 1997, a panel of three board members had concluded that Woods was not a danger to society and had "committed the crime as a result of significant stress in her life," a hearing transcript shows.

Former Commissioner Thomas Giaquinto said prison psychiatrists had found that Woods suffered from battered women's syndrome, a condition that led her to seek "rescuers to extract her from her situation."

"This case stands out as one in which we truly have before us a battered woman," said Giaquinto, one of several former police officers on the board. One beating, he said, put Woods in the hospital for three days. Another caused her to miscarry.

Despite such evidence, the governor asked the board to keep Woods locked up--the most he could do under a law that limits his authority over parole grants made during a prior administration. On Aug. 28, however, the parole commissioners upheld their original decision.

Woods' release is hugely symbolic for inmates, lawyers and legislators who have been critical of Davis' record of opposing parole. Critics say that record--coupled with a 1999 statement by the governor that all murderers could "forget" about parole, no matter the circumstances--is evidence that Davis has an illegal blanket policy against parole.

Over the weekend, however, Davis softened the statistics a bit by agreeing to release later this year another battered woman imprisoned for murder.

Cheryl Montgomery, a Sacramento attorney who has represented hundreds of inmates during parole hearings, cheered Woods' release and said she hoped that it sends a "strong message" to Davis.

She noted that the parole board--appointed by the governor--is very cautious in its decision-making and is dominated by former police officers with conservative views on crime.

"When the board finds somebody suitable for parole, it's never a decision they take lightly," Montgomery said.

Woods was a 24-year-old telephone operator when she was arrested in the stabbing death of Davis at their Oakland apartment. At her parole hearing, she said she enlisted two co-workers to beat him to send him a message because of his abuse.

The night before the murder, one of the co-workers hit Davis on the head with a baseball bat. The assailants returned the next day and stabbed him.

Woods, who said she loved but feared Davis, called 911. She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life.

Parole board records show that Woods had no discipline citations in prison, received "exceptional" work appraisals from supervisors and participated in numerous self-help groups. She studied computer programming and led a group that helps women inmates with legal matters.

Efforts to reach Woods were unsuccessful Thursday. Pfeiffer said she was reluctant to speak out because "she knows her release hurts her victim's family and she doesn't want to inflict any more pain."

"Her two biggest concerns are the victim's family and the inmates she left behind," Pfeiffer said. "She knows she is lucky to be getting out, and she's not going to abandon the deserving women still in prison."

Woods will live in the East Bay and work as a secretary in a law office, Pfeiffer said. Under terms of her release, she must meet with her parole agent once a month and have no contact with her crime partners.

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