North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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August 20, 2010

Alabama’s parole process is ‘most rigid’ in nation

NORTH JEFFERSON — A spokesman with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles said there is a good reason his department has a six-month backlog on certain parole hearings.

Robert Oakes, assistant executive director of the board, said the delay is on victim cases only.

“Alabama has the most rigid and expensive victim notification process in the nation,” Oakes said. “We are required to find the victim whether they want to be found or not. ... We spend millions of dollars in the process.”

Oakes said victims are not required to inform the parole board when they move.

One set of victims the board has had no trouble finding was the family of Ruth Matilda Burgett, who was raped and murdered in her home in Fultondale on Dec. 14, 1978. Burgett’s son and daughter-in-law, Phillip and Charlotte Burgett of Fultondale, have been attending David Wayne Camper’s parole hearings ever since Camper was convicted of the murder on June 22, 1979.

The husband and wife have made a mission of trying to keep Camper in prison. The parole board has sided with them so far, but the Burgetts said the longer Camper stays in prison, the more difficult it is to keep him there.

Oakes said the length of time served is one of the many factors the parole board considers when approving or denying parole for inmates.

Camper’s hearing was originally set to be held in December and is now scheduled for Tuesday.

The Burgetts have been asking people to pray about the outcome of the hearing, and to send letters to the parole board asking it to keep Camper imprisoned. Alabama Attorney General Troy King sent a strongly-worded letter to the board asking it to deny parole to Camper. So did Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery and Police Chief Byron Pigg.

Individuals can also attend the hearings and speak to the parole board in person.

“All parole hearings are open, public meetings,” Oakes said. Hearings begin at 8:30 a.m. Those who attend must sign in and will be allowed to speak for a few minutes, depending on how many people sign up, Oakes said. He added that the parole board will attempt to hear cases first that have individuals signed up to speak.

He said the Camper hearing will likely be one of the first cases for the day because it has received so much publicity and there will be people in the audience to participate in the hearing.

Inmates do not attend their own parole hearings. All hearings are held at the parole board central office in the criminal justice complex at 301 South Ripley Street in Montgomery.

Those who attend find out the board’s decision the same day. After hearing from both sides, the board retires into executive session, or a private meeting, to discuss the case. It then returns and announces whether the inmate will receive parole.

Oakes said the Alabama Supreme Court has deemed inmates’ parole files to be inaccessible by the public or the press.

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