Crime victims seek right to speak at parole hearings Legislators study expansion of role

February 15, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

In a continuing effort to expand their legal rights, crime victims are pushing a bill in the legislature that would allow them to speak at their assailants' parole hearings.

Supporters say the measure would permit victims to explain how crimes have affected them and express fears about a criminal's release.

"I'm not asking for any more rights for victims than criminals have -- only equal rights," crime victim Sue Mathis told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee this week.

Ms. Mathis' former husband is serving 30 years for nearly stabbing her to death with a hunting knife in 1986. On two occasions, he has asked the state to reduce his sentence. Ms. Mathis of Essex said she was not told of the requests.

Paul J. Davis, chairman of the state Parole Commission, said he could support the bill as long as one provision, allowing victims to "rebut" criminals, is removed.

The bill's sponsor, Baltimore County Democratic Sen. Michael J. Collins, agreed to the change. Mr. Davis said he also wanted to limit victims' testimony to five minutes.

Sen. Leo E. Green, the Prince George's Democrat who is committee vice chairman, predicted the committee and the full Senate would approve the bill.

Victims' rights has been a popular issue in Annapolis in recent years.

In response to stories in The Sun about the Parole Commission's secret operations, the legislature passed a law in 1994 allowing victims to attend hearings involving their assailants.

The same year, legislators overwhelmingly supported an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing crime victims the right to be treated with "dignity, respect and sensitivity."

Ms. Mathis said she wants to make sure the Parole Commission knows that she believes her former husband will be a threat to her when he gets out of prison.

"They need to know that I still live in fear," she said.

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