Bill introduced to give prisoners serving life sentence better chance of parole

Proposal would strengthen parole board powers

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - There is a new push to give hundreds of inmates serving life in prison a better chance of getting out someday.

Right now in Maryland, only the governor can grant parole to a prisoner serving life.

Etta Myers knows exactly how much time she spent behind bars. “Thirty-eight years, nine months, four days and seven hours,” she said.

Myers and her boyfriend at the time were convicted of killing another man back in the 1970s.

Myers said she knew nothing about the crime -- but she was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.  She said over time her spirituality helped her adjust to life in prison.

“There was always a calmness instilled in me that I didn't even understand,” she said. “So it was, I believe, my spirit mind that allowed me to grow and flourish.”

In Maryland, the possibility of parole for an inmate serving life is remote.

“There is no real possibility because the governor is never going to offer parole then it's not really an honest sentence,” said Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City).

Myers says she went before a parole board at least 10 times.

She says in 1992 it recommended that she be released. But the governor never ruled on her case, so she stayed in prison.

She's out now -- one of a several dozen inmates recently released after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that in many cases, decades ago, jurors had been given improper instructions.

Carter is sponsoring a bill that would give the parole board -- not the governor -- the final say on parole for inmates serving life in prison, if the inmate was accessory to the crime, in other words, he or she did not pull the trigger.

It would also cover inmates sent to prison for life as juveniles.

In all, the delegate says, the bill would affect about 2100 inmates in Maryland.

“It doesn't guarantee parole,” she said. “It just gives them an opportunity for the parole board to give them a hearing to consider actual parole.”

Etta Myers isn't sure what she'll do next. She's hoping to do some volunteering at a hospital, and she's looking for a job.

After 38 years in prison, she supports the parole board bill.

“They have your entire life sitting there before them and you have a personal relationship with them,” she said.  “What better group of people to decide who comes home?”

Votes on that bill in the House Judiciary Committee, and a similar bill in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee are both expected to happen this week.

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