FAIRFAX, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - The Commonwealth's support system for victim advocates is raising concerns about inmates being released early by Virginia without notification or input from victims, which the law requires.
FOX 5 obtained a letter sent by The Virginia Victim Assistance Network to the Virginia Parole Board on Thursday, which said the nonprofit has heard of at least one recent case of an inmate released early from prison to the surprise of the family of the victim in Halifax County.
The victim's brother in that case, Kevin Wynn, says he was never notified or allowed to give a statement about the release of his brother's killer, Debra Scribner, 66. Scribner was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Wynn's brother Eric in 2011.
Parole Board and Virginia Department of Corrections records show Scribner's release came just eight years into her 23-year sentence.
The Parole Board confirmed that COVID-19 and her age and underlying conditions played a role in her early release.
The chair of the Parole Board, Tonya Chapman, who took over the job on April 16, said the board sent Kevin Wynn a letter in January.
Wynn says it had the wrong address on it. The board granted Scribner parole on March 30.
"My brother doesn't get a second chance. He doesn't get to come back, which I knew that in the first part, but if you do a crime you should do all your time," said Wynn.
Virginia Code specifies that victims and Commonwealth's Attorney's offices must be notified prior to a defendant's release and victims must be given the opportunity to give input to the board before a decision is made.
FOX 5 uncovered Wynn was not alone. A victim who didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation said the state released a prisoner in Southwest Virginia without notifying him. He testified against the defendant.
Sources say the state granted a Fairfax County man parole without notification or input from the victim, also on March 30.
In that case, a source with knowledge of the decision tells FOX 5 49-year-old Kerry Pope was supposed to be in prison until 2042 after convictions in 1992 for robbery, kidnapping and using a firearm. Instead, the board released Pope early and did not notify the victim until after a decision had been made.
"We definitely want to take the position and let the parole board know how critically important that all victims' rights are and rights that are statutorily guaranteed be upheld and enforced," said Cristi Lawton, executive director of the Virginia Victim Assistance Network.
In a statement, Chapman said:
"If victims are not registered in VINE or have indicated their desire to be contacted, it is often difficult to locate victims. Our victim services coordinator diligently conducts victim research in accordance with Va State Code 53.1-155. Although our victim services coordinator makes an extra effort to locate victims, we encourage victims, who desire to be notified when an offender is eligible for parole, to either register in VINE or contact the Parole Board directly to express their desire to be notified."
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appoints the Parole Board. The governor's press office did not respond to FOX 5.