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It’s About Time

4/13/2010, 11:07 a.m.
“The state department of correction fails to correct, and the parole...
“The state department of correction fails to correct, and the parole board has been reluctant to parole. ”

It’s About Time

The state parole board has a grave responsibility. Those seven men and women decide who will remain incarcerated and who will return to society. The primary determining factor is whether the petitioner has been rehabilitated.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific test to certify that the prisoner is unlikely to commit another offense. Over the years, parole board members have come to rely heavily on evidence of remorse. At the parole hearing, petitioners must persuade the board that they profoundly regret having committed the crime.

The underlying assumption of the remorse test is that the prisoner is guilty as charged. We now know that a number of individuals have been falsely accused and falsely convicted. Since 1989, 252 prisoners in the United States have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence. Of these, 17 were already on death row awaiting execution. Undoubtedly there are a number of other innocent individuals who languish in prison without the benefit of a DNA test to free them.

With such overwhelming evidence that the American justice system sends innocent people to prison, no competent parole board can now summarily conclude that a prisoner who steadfastly asserts his innocence thereby demonstrates a lack of remorse. On the contrary, it could well be just extraordinarily strong character and perseverance for a prisoner to reject the benefits from providing a dramatic but fictional demonstration of remorse.

Ben LaGuer will soon be coming up for parole once again. In 1984, he was sentenced to life with eligibility for parole after 15 years. He was convicted of raping a white woman and leaving her beaten and tied up. LaGuer has consistently maintained that he is innocent, and will continue to do so. There are enough irregularities in his trial to suggest that the wrong man has been imprisoned.

At his next hearing, LaGuer will be 47 years old and will have spent 26 years in prison, more than half his life. He was first eligible for parole 11 years ago, but he has been denied freedom. The only question before the parole board is whether LaGuer is likely to rape middle-aged women or commit some other violent offense against the public if he is released. He has already paid a penalty of 26 years behind bars for a crime he insists he did not commit.

It should be pointed out that, in half of the DNA exonerations, convictions were obtained with faulty forensic evidence and, in 25 percent of the cases, the police had even obtained false confessions or incriminating statements. Systemic flaws in prosecutions are not uncommon, and, in the LaGuer case, they could have led to a wrongful conviction.

If LaGuer is indeed innocent, it is unjust to require him to show remorse for a crime he did not commit. Even if he is guilty as the jury determined, it is still unjust to continue to keep LaGuer imprisoned after serving 26 years, unless his release poses a clear danger to the public.

Many community residents would like to see Mark Conrad, the new chairman of the state parole board, provide the leadership to resolve the troubling case of deplorable injustice against Benjamin LaGuer.