Stunned That Rep. Hazlewood Possibly Wants Early Release For First Degree Murderers - And Response (3)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Most state representatives have been bragging about the legislation they’ve recently introduced this legislative session. Rep. Travis, up in Dayton, Tn., is really proud of the medical marijuana legislation that he’s proposed. That got me to wonder, what my elected state representative has been doing. Three-quarters of the city of Soddy-Daisy precincts are represented by Patsy Hazlewood, of Signal Mountain, who is retired from AT&T. Yeah, the district lines are gerrymandered like crazy. 

What I found was very concerning to me. I found Bill 1128, which wants to go with the governor’s power to reduce prison overcrowding. Sounds great, right? Our prison population per capita is out of control. However, most of that is drug offenses. The criminals that need to stay in jail are the murderers, rapists, etc.

I initially gave Rep. Hazlewood the benefit of the doubt. I’d wondered if the governor’s new legislation made it easier for 1st-degree murderers to get out early. Then I read the mind-boggling proposed legislation. In section bill it starts a sentence off with:   “The inmate may execute.”  Wait... what? Haven’t 1st-degree murderers executed enough? Couldn’t you have chosen a different word to use? Or did you even write it? Was it a lawyer, perhaps say for, a 1st-degree murderer that wrote the language of the bill?

It’s at this point that I have I’m questioning a couple of things. The first is every single piece of legislation she has proposed. The second is every state rep that votes with any legislation Rep. Hazlewood proposes.

Perhaps up on Signal Mountain, Rep. Hazlewood hasn’t been exposed to violent crime or been a victim of it. I’m hoping that’s the case because nobody should have to go through it. If she had been a family member of any senseless act of violence, she’d move mountains to make it as hard as possible for any 1st-degree murderers to get out of jail.

Let me put two names out there for you of two high profile cases in this area.  Frank Casteel and Paul Ware.  For those of you new to the area or need a refresher, Casteel shot and killed three men with a shotgun and left them in the woods. One died from a shotgun blast to the head that left half of his head missing, another died from a shotgun blast to the chest and the other was shot with birdshot and then again with buckshot.  Ware is in prison for felony murder and two counts of violent child rape of a four-year-old little girl.

Lastly, continuing with the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say this is a language clarification issue. Why would she sign her name to a bill making it easier for them to get out, in any case? Take the opportunity to address a potential language clarification and make it harder not easier for 1st degree murderers to get released early. But hey, she wants to ban cell phones in the car though with another piece of legislation. So at least there’s that.

James Berry

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The writer of the Feb 8 piece has totally misrepresented this bill. Search it out and read the text of the bill.

I have good friends who have been convicted of first-degree murder who are now good, useful members of society. I can understand that someone might oppose the bill, but arguments against it should at least be honest and not misrepresent its contents.

John L. Odom


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I’m writing in response to James Berry’s letter concerning House Bill 1126, relative to life sentence parole eligibility. 

I agree with Mr. Berry that there are some offenders for whom it should be harder, not easier, to get out of prison. For any offender who falls under this category, we have true life sentences with no chance of parole, ever.

Tennessee, however, effectively has two life without parole sentences in addition to a death sentence, and it is this redundancy (and its economic impact) that Bill 1128 seeks to address. No other state in the country, for the record, has two life without parole sentences, and that is exactly what our current 51 year life with parole sentence is. Most states have a life without parole sentence and a separate life with parole sentence, which is typically 20 to 25 years.

Here in Tennessee, however, according to the 1995 Truth in Sentencing Law, one isn't eligible for release for 51 years. Using release eligibility status calculations, and adjusting for inflation, the citizens of Tennessee are being asked shoulder a billion dollar burden having to do with redundancy. (Let that sink in!) The estimated cost of $2.097 billion, for individuals currently incarcerated and serving a 51 year life sentence in TDOC, was derived using an approximate cost of $25,000 per year, per person, for incarcerated individuals under the age of 50, and an increased cost of $50,000 per year, per person, for incarcerated individuals 50 or more years old.

Are we safer for our money? If we look at the rate of recidivism for lifers, the answer is clearly “no.”  (And to be clear, this bill does not apply to anyone given a life without parole or death sentence, and it does not apply to rape.) As it happens, those serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole are among those least likely to reoffend.  In 2002 the U.S. Bureau of Statistics examined 272,000 lifers paroled from 15 states and found a 1.2 percent recidivism rate after three years, a rate of recidivism dramatically below the estimated national average of 58-60 percent recidivism.  A 2011 Stanford Law School study tells a similar story. This is why the national average for a life sentence with possibility of parole is 25 years, a fact that historically has also been true for Tennessee as well.  

Finally, unlike the hard numbers illuminating the economic burden, the human cost of the 51 year life sentence is incalculable. Young men, for instance, who make tragic mistakes at 18, are doomed to sit in prison until the age of 70. The truth, however, is that almost all of them will die in prison. Many of these young people spend years working toward rehabilitation, and deserve their chance at redemption. 

Tennessee's 51 year life sentence is redundant, expensive, inhumane and completely out of step with the rest of the country. For these reasons, I support Representative Hazlewood and House Bill 1128.  

Sara Sharpe

* * * 

Read with interest the opinions on possible release for 1st degree murderers, it was eye opening.  Why?  All I heard about those on the left side of the topic talk about the cost to taxpayers to keep the murderers in prison.  The talk about how they've changed their lives while in prison (we all know how many find God as soon as they hear the door clink shut).  We all realize they have accepted discipline and routine, what else is there for them?  It's exactly the lack of discipline, routine and respect that they're there to start with. 

We haven't heard about the lives of those families, those victims that are left to pick up the pieces of horrible repercussions they experience for the rest of their lives!  My closest friend lost her son to a cold-blooded murderer recently convicted by a jury of her peers, her entire family has been affected by this.  The murderer vacationed in Florida, lived it up in Tennessee, did things to the survivors that no one would believe unless they actually experienced it, all the while waiting over two years for a court date.  She and her supporters laughed and giggled throughout the trial, she gained support from religious leaders who had no idea who it was they were supporting.  The family?  They hung strong during the trial, supporting each other.  Bank accounts were emptied fighting for justice.  Family members had to be hospitalized due to the emotional turmoil they silently suffered.  Their lives will never, ever, ever be the same.  Try putting a dollar sign on that! 

Sentencing is right around the corner and I'm sure this murderer will also find God when that door slams shut.  No more vacations, no more tanning booths, no more nail salons, no more hair days, no more swimming pools or fancy clothes or diamonds.  When someone else begins telling you what and when to eat, how and when you'll shower, when you'll get up and when you'll turn in....light bulbs begin to go off.  The "oh my gosh what the heck have I done and how can I get out of this quickly" come to Jesus moment hits like an atom bomb.   

I don't feel sorry, not one bit, for any convicted murderer.  They took away something that can never be returned.  They killed not only a human being but someone else's dreams and left them nothing but sad memories about the way their loved one passed.  They handed over to the survivors nightmares to live with, forever.  Forgiveness helps those survivors but forgetting never happens.  Every time the news talks about the incident it brings back those horrible memories to the loved ones forcing them to relive that nightmare.  Just when they think it's gone it comes screaming back with a vengeance.  Sentencing is the end result of bad choices and should be served to the very second until release because the survivors get a life sentence they can never be free of. 

Sue White

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