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Parole board shakeup comes amid dispute over new rule

June 23, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear has replaced the Kentucky Parole Board’s chairwoman after a backlash against its recent policy change, which would have given dozens of convicted murderers another chance at potentially cutting short their life-in-prison sentences.

Beshear on Monday appointed a new board member to replace Lelia VanHoose, whose term had expired, the parole board said. The governor also designated Ladeidra Jones to replace VanHoose as the board’s chairperson. The governor’s office did not give a reason for the shakeup.

The parole board’s policy shift, issued this spring, sparked an outcry from prosecutors statewide and drew a legal challenge from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Jackie Steele, commonwealth’s attorney for Knox and Laurel counties.

A Kentucky judge temporarily blocked the new directive.

The court order halted the parole board from giving a new parole hearing to more than 40 prisoners previously ordered to serve out life sentences for such crimes as murder, rape and kidnapping. The parole board said Wednesday that it’s complying with the court order and that the directive “is no longer in effect.”

Until the rule was blocked, some prisoners previously ordered to serve out life sentences were scheduled to receive another parole eligibility hearing as early as next month, Cameron’s office said.

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They included a man responsible for the murder and kidnapping of two high school students, a woman responsible for murdering her 10-year-old stepson, a man who killed two teens on their first date and a man responsible for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing a college student, the attorney general’s office said.

Cameron and Steele said the new hearings would subject victims’ families to reliving the crimes.

Cameron and Steele filed a lawsuit in Laurel County Circuit Court taking aim at the rule limiting the parole board’s ability to order a prisoner to serve out a life sentence at an initial parole eligibility hearing. They asked that the policy be invalidated, claiming it violates state law and Kentucky’s constitution.

The parole board said the new directive came after legal issues were raised in challenging its practice on issuing “serve outs” during an inmate’s initial parole hearing — meaning they were immediately required to serve out their life sentence.

The Courier Journal first reported about the membership shakeup at the parole board.

VanHoose was appointed to the parole board in 2013. Beshear this week appointed Sherri Lathan to replace VanHoose for a term expiring in 2025. Lathan began her corrections career as a correctional officer and then served 14 years as a probation and parole officer.

Jones, the parole board’s new chairwoman, began her career working at the Woodford County Detention Center and later worked as a probation and parole officer. She spent years working in the Fayette County Drug Court and the state Corrections Department’s substance abuse program.