After Maryville teen’s death, questions arise about the state’s parole policy
By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator
Nowadays, those charged with non-violent crimes serve less than 20 percent of their sentence, according to the Department of Corrections.
But a tragic accident that killed an innocent teenager last summer has altered attitudes.
The Hardeman County Correction Facility in West Tennessee is where John Perkins had been incarcerated for four years after being sentenced to 12 years for the 2005 conviction of aggravated armed robbery.
Perkins’ early release was devastating for Amanda Moore and her father Wayne Keown, a former wrestler known as Dutch Mantell.
Wayne’s granddaughter was Amelia Keown. She and her mother lived with Dutch until three years ago when they moved to Blount County.
On August 14 on Highway 411 outside Maryville, 16-year old Amelia was hit and killed by John Perkins, who also died.
“I miss her so much,” Keown said.
Amelia had been on her way home from school to pick up her pom pom’s for dance practice when Perkins hit her.
“That guy should still be in prison,” said Keown. “The parole board and our state failed us.”
Perkins’ path to early release is the result of the state prison system having too many inmates.
A report by the Pew Center released in September found that Tennessee inmates serve less time than those in most states.
On average, a Tennessee prison sentence lasts 1.9 years, about a year shorter than the national average.
In the 1980s, Tennessee revised its sentencing guidelines to reduce prison overcrowding.
Through state action the minimum time a prisoner must serve was reduced and parole guidelines were expanded.
In Nashville at the Board of Parole State Office Building, no one would speak on camera.
By email, a spokesperson said that when Perkins’ petitions for parole were reviewed, he was rejected three times based on the seriousness of his offense.
But at his fourth hearing in 2009, he was granted release. A parole official said it was based on time served and the progress he made while incarcerated.
Amanda Moore also read John Perkins’ thick probation and parole profile.
While incarcerated, his record shows a failed a drug test and five counts of failing to report.
“He clearly wasn’t a model citizen, other than the fact that he went to Bible classes,” Moore said.
Perkins’ arrests date back to 1988. Page after page shows a history of drugs, felony escape, fleeing arrest, and reckless endangerment.
While on parole, Perkins was caught shoplifting at a Belk store in Maryville in 2011.
The report shows a $50 fine, but someone missed the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be getting into trouble.
“They didn’t catch it,” Moore said. “If they had, he should have been back in prison. Had he been in prison, my daughter would be alive.”
On a crusade for tighter parole rules, Dutch and his daughter met with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in late September to outline their cause for a bill known as Amelia’s Law that would keep prisoners in jail longer.
In October at breakfast meeting in Maryville, they met with State Sen. Doug Overbey who sits on the state’s powerful judiciary and finance committees.
The senator left believing there is cause to review and possibly rewrite the rules in 2013.
“Try to see if we can come together in strengthening Tennessee sentencing laws, strengthening Tennessee parole procedures, rules and regulations,” Sen. Overbey said.
But will a tough truth in sentencing bill, dubbed Amelia’s Law, actually make it before the legislature next year?
Currently attorneys are drafting a plan and sponsors are being recruited.
The one big question that remains is money and how the measure would be funded.