It's been 16 years since Lois Hess' only son was murdered, and she thought the grieving would be over by now. She was wrong.
Recently, Mrs. Hess learned that the man convicted of the
murder was scheduled to have a parole hearing March 25. The news threw her into an emotional tailspin, bringing back the hurt and anger as if the slaying had just happened.
"I was hysterical," she said.
The news also prompted her to take action.
Yesterday, Mrs. Hess and her husband, Dick, went to the Maryland Parole Commission's office and presented about 4,000 signatures on a petition calling for the denial of parole to her son's murderer.
Her ability to gather such support on short notice was not surprising. The Pikesville mother has spent the years since her son's violent death on Feb. 3, 1975, working on victims' rights issues and tough gun-control laws.
Her son, Stuart M. Hess, 24, had recently graduated from American University with a master's degree in land planning and urban development when he went to work with his father, a developer who was building a new town house complex in Rosedale.
One morning, Stuart arrived at the construction site early and ap
parently surprised Claude Waddy, an escaped convict who had been hiding out there.
"He blew his brains out and robbed him," Mrs. Hess said. "End of story."
Stuart died of a gunshot wound to the head, and Waddy was later convicted of murder and using a handgun to commit a felony. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Waddy already had numerous robbery convictions and had escaped from prison twice. He was sentenced to another 32 years in those cases, bringing the length of his prison sentence to 67 years.
"The 67 years pleased me," Mrs. Hess said.
However, she was determined to monitor Waddy's status. In November 1990, she learned that Waddy's sentence had been reduced to 43 years because of a 1989 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
That ruling arose from an unrelated case in which the court decided that prison officials were computing sentences incorrectly. After the ruling, hundreds of sentences were reviewed, although not all were reduced.
Because Waddy's term was reduced, prison officials determined that he had earned enough points for a parole hearing.
The discovery focused attention on another of Mrs. Hess' major concerns -- that victims and their families are not allowed to appear at parole hearings in Maryland.
The groups lobbied for a bill on open parole hearings at this year's General Assembly session in Annapolis, but the bill received an unfavorable report from a Senate committee and is not likely to pass.
Victims and their families can submit impact statements and other documents, such as the petitions, to the parole board. But Mrs. Hess doesn't think that is good enough; she says open hearings are already being held in some states.
"People were absolutely shocked that our family couldn't be there," she said.
Paul J. Davis, commissioner of the parole board, understands this sentiment, but he testified in Annapolis against open parole hearings.
"I honestly believe it would make for more harm than good," he said.
If victims testify, he said, the prisoner also would have the right to be heard, and the informal hearing could become a "quasi-judicial" proceeding that would be much more expensive. fiscal 1990, there were 11,600 parole hearings.
"We would need to double our resources" if victims testified, Mr. Davis said.
Mrs. Hess believes the costs could be contained by putting a limit on the number of people allowed to testify. Besides, she said, her concern is shared by scores of families.
"It's not just my personal story," she said. "It's a huge problem."