Court won't block murderer's parole

April 15, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist cleared the way yesterday for Clarence J. Hancock, in prison for 17 years for murdering a Prince George's County woman, to be released to a state halfway house in Baltimore.

The chief justice gave no explanation as he refused to delay a parole that Hancock had won from state courts. Maryland officials promptly began taking steps that will mean that Hancock will move, probably later this week, to a state facility at West Monument and Eutaw streets.

At the halfway house, he is expected to be free during daytime hours, but must get a job.

Hancock, originally sentenced to a life prison term plus 35 years, has been at a state prison in Hagerstown. Earlier, he was at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup. Patuxent officials had been opposing his release from prison, contending that he was "an pTC extremely dangerous individual."

Legal Aid Bureau lawyers, however, told the chief justice that Hancock, now 40, is no longer dangerous, and that he has been "a model prisoner" who broke no laws or rules during four years of daily work release and school release from Patuxent. "He was a productive, tax-paying member of society" during that time, his lawyers said.

Hancock was convicted of murdering a Landover nurse, Nina Elaine Paris, 36, with a hammer after sexually assaulting her in her home on Feb. 29, 1976. He also was convicted of using the same hammer to bludgeon Ms. Paris' 11-year-old son, Randolph, when he tried to help his mother. The boy suffered permanent brain damage.

Hancock has been seeking parole for several years, after state officials blocked his release when it was first recommended by Patuxent's director in 1987. Baltimore Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes granted parole in July 1990, but Patuxent officials began resisting again. Ultimately, on March 12, the state Court of Appeals upheld the parole order.

State officials then asked the chief justice to postpone Hancock's release from prison until they could appeal the case to the Supreme Court. That was the request Mr. Rehnquist denied at midday yesterday.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard said Hancock would be taken from Hagerstown to the Patuxent Institution by tomorrow. Although the Court of Appeals decision left officials with an option to continue to hold Hancock if they found that he had broken prison disciplinary rules, Ms. Shepard said she expected his file to show "no infractions." Thus, she said, he would be likely to be placed in the halfway house. Hancock's own lawyers say he has violated no disciplinary rules in all of the time he has been held.

Ms. Shepard said that no final decision has been made on whether the state will go ahead with its plans to appeal the Hancock case to the Supreme Court. She said the chief justice's order yesterday was "not encouraging."

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