Originally created 01/25/00

Parole panel rescue



Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig, Sheriff Charlie Webster and Superior Court Judge Albert Pickett owe the Georgia Pardons and Paroles Board a huge vote of thanks for saving them from acute embarrassment.

The trio, in response topleas from a prominent local attorney, wrote letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles indicating they wouldn't oppose the release of child-killer Louis Bennie Phipps after serving less than half of his 15-year sentence.

In fairness, Craig, Webster and Pickett didn't recommend Phipps be paroled, but by writing letters taking a laissez faire position on the issue they helped set the stage for the killer's parole this week.

"I am not recommending that you grant or deny his (Phipps') request, but simply have no objection to your reconsidering it," wrote Judge Pickett last October. That's typical of the letters written by Webster and Craig, too.

But if these powerful law-enforcement officials, including the judge who imposed the sentence, are not against early release, why should anyone else be? In fact, if the letters aren't a recommendation for parole, they are the closest thing to it.

Fortunately, the child murderer didn't get back on the streets.

Phipps is still behind bars, thanks to an alert parole panel that dug deeper than these letter writers and came up with new information that is not so parole-friendly for Phipps, convicted in January 1987 of killing 22-month-old Brian Wil-liamson, son of his live-in female lover.

Pickett, Craig and Webster are spared the embarrass-ment of being blamed, at least in part, for the early release of a killer who got off far too lightly in the first place. "My feeling is that he should have gotten 30 years and ... served 30 years," says Phipps' respected prosecutor, Richard Thomas.

"People get life for robbing a bank, and he got 15 years for killing a baby," complains Robin Boyd, Brian's mother. "That man does not deserve to walk the streets."

Clearly, Phipps is not a felon who should be freed anytime soon. We think that Pickett, Craig and Webster just weren't paying close attention.

The lesson for them is that they shouldn't be so casual about what they say concerning paroles of violent criminals. It's fine to listen to the defense's side, but before taking a position they should also talk to victims' families and take into account other factors that might prod them into actively opposing unwarranted early releases.

The lesson forDistrict Attorney Danny Craig, Sheriff Charlie Webster and Superior Court Judge Albert Pickett is that they shouldn't be so casual about what they say concerning paroles of violent criminals.



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