Parents of 3 murder victims file lawsuit against Maryland Parole Commission

A lawsuit has been filed against the Maryland Parole Commission by the parents of three people killed in the state.

They argued that changes to the Maryland code that determines what the Parole Commission must consider at parole hearings is offensive to victims and violates the law.

The parole commission and the state attorney general’s office, which is handling the case for the state, declined to comment publicly because this is pending litigation.

It began in 2021, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding parole eligibility for juvenile offenders. The changes to the state code laid out a long list of considerations the state’s Parole Commission must weigh before making a subjective decision about whether someone should be granted parole.

In all, there are 13 factors that the commission must weigh, including, “The circumstances surrounding the crime, which diminish in significance as a consideration after the initial parole hearing.”

It’s this clause that a crime victim advocacy group is criticizing.

“The purpose really there is to marginalize what happened to the victim,” said Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center. “We’re not going to stand for that.”

He called the new regulation adopted last year “absurd,” and he argued that is was in conflict with state law.

“They don’t have the authority to do it,” he said. “It’s really an insult to the victims. I’m sorry to say, I know people don’t always mean these insults, but it’s pretty insulting to minimize what happened to the crime victims. Frankly, that’s the real reason for the punishment in the first place.”

The three plaintiffs include Shenna Foster, of Waldorf, whose son, 18-year-old Walter Thomas, was murdered in 2019. Two men have pleaded guilty in connection to Thomas’ death. Since then, one of the men convicted has applied for and been rejected for parole.

Another plaintiff is Benjamin Brown, of Bryans Road. His 17-year-old son Bradley was shot and killed in his driveway in 2020 in a robbery that turned violent. His son’s killer has been sentenced to life in prison, while a co-defendant was found guilty last month and is awaiting sentencing.

The third plaintiff is Roberta Roper, of Upper Marlboro, whose daughter was raped, killed, and then dismembered in a gruesome crime that made huge headlines in the early 1980s. Her daughter’s killer has been considered for parole but remains behind bars.

Lawyers arguing for the state say the case should be thrown out.

Last month, Assistant Attorney General Susan Howe Baron argued for dismissal, saying in a filing that the lawsuit “reflects their misunderstanding of both the parole consideration process in Maryland generally and the proper interpretation of the Code of Maryland regulation” being cited.

“The petitioners read the language ‘diminish in significance’ to mean ‘are of no significance at all.’ Diminish means to less, not to disappear entirely,” Baron wrote.

She also argued in the filing that the plaintiffs improperly extend that clause to three other factors related to the impact of the crime on the victim. In addition, the state says, “a challenge to the regulation on any of the grounds advanced by Ms. Foster must await an actual or threatened violation of her statutory and constitutional rights as a victim,” which hasn’t happened yet. None of the other killers the plaintiffs express concern about are close to being eligible for parole, or simply haven’t requested it, the argument added.

Earlier this week, a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss was rescheduled for Nov. 1.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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