Family: Rights denied for relatives of Virginia murder victim

Amid a state watchdog investigation into the Virginia Parole Board and policies leading to the release of inmates, another family is coming forward telling FOX 5 they were not allowed the input the law guarantees before their loved one's killer was granted release.

Leonard Porter was just 24 and in the Navy when his wife Sharon Porter shot him in the head on their anniversary in the Norfolk area in 1990.

Porter was convicted and sentenced to life, but has been eligible for parole for several years. Each time Leonard Porter's family has contested her release.

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Jena Hiltenbrand says on the anniversary of her brother's death this year she got a call from the parole board saying Porter had been granted release, in part due to a review prompted by COVID-19.

"They're supposed to be looking out for the family and the victims. They didn't do that at all. All they did was look out for the prisoner in emptying out the prisons because of COVID," Hiltenbrand said.

Hiltenbrand says she opposed Porter's release in February, but was not given the same chance in April because the state board never let her know Porter was once again eligible.

"My brother got life that day, right. His life was terminated. Hers is now starting again and that's not right," said Hiltenbrand.

State law says the parole board must make a diligent effort to notify victims and their families and seek testimony before they decide to grant an inmate parole.

Tonya Chapman, chair of the Virginia Parole Board, told FOX 5 it sent Hiltenbrand a letter, but Hiltenbrand says she never got it. Chapman also says the board followed the law because it considered input given from her back in February.

"The Parole Board made proper notification and received victim input as required under § 53.1-155. The victim's family provided victim input on February 3, 2020 through a telephonic meeting with a Parole Board member," Chapman said.

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Hiltenbrand says she should be able to give input each time Porter is up for parole.

Porter's release date is unclear. It typically takes weeks or months before an inmate is released after parole is granted.

The Office of the State Inspector General opened an investigation into the parole board's policies soon after FOX 5 reported on a pattern where families say they weren't notified before a decision.

The investigation also came after the board granted parole to Vincent Martin, a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979.

Martin was released in June.