Crime victims and victims’ family earned a new right in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
A law signed by Gov. Tom Corbett grants them the opportunity to testify in person or through electronic means before the state Parole Boardbefore it decides whether to let the person out of prison who made them or their family members a crime victim.
The legislation that drew unanimous support from the House and Senate reached Corbett’s desk in three months’ time. It had the support from prosecutors, law enforcement and the victim advocates.
Corbett credited victims advocates for pressing this issue and bringing it to lawmakers’ attention.
Under Pennsylvania law, a person convicted of a crime who served his or her minimum prison sentence can apply for parole for every year.
Carol Lavery, the state’s Victim Advocate, said nothing barred the Parole Board from hearing from victims in the past but she said they would say it was “inefficient,” “took too much time,” and “was difficult to schedule.”
But Lavery and Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said the impact of hearing a victim’s story from someone who is looking them in the eye is far greater than reading a letter.
Marsico said that was made clear at the news conference in the Governor’s Reception Room where two victims’ families shared the emotional stories of how their loved one’s lives came to an end.
Ellen Robb died at the hands of an abusive husband in Montgomery County. Rafael Robb pleaded guilty to killing his wife in 2006 and was sentenced to five- to-10 years in prison.
He was scheduled to be released in January until her brothers and others including Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, successfully pushed the Parole Board to rescind its decision.
Robert Curley died in 1991 from being poisoned by his wife who killed him for insurance money.
His sister Susan Hooper said his wife Joann Curley is serving a 10- to 20-year prison sentence. Five times, she was up for parole and five times, the Parole Board denied it.
“With the signing of this bill I can now go before the Parole Board members and really tell them the truth and who Bobby really was instead of just reading all this information,” Hooper said.
“I used to send in all kinds of photos and videos and everything, but now I finally get a chance to be Bobby’s voice. This is a huge step for victims.”
Vereb, who along with Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County championed the bill through the Legislature, said the bill levels the playing field and “treats our victims with the respect and support they deserve while at the same time, making their voice count.”