The governor, not the parole board, has the final say on whether an inmate can be released from prison, the state Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling released on Thursday.
The 9-0 ruling, authored by Justice Steven González, stems from an appeal filed by Jerry Dean Lain, who stabbed a Richland police officer seven times and shot him in 1982. The officer survived the attack and Lain was convicted of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to serve a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison.
In 2010, the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board granted Lain parole, but then-Gov. Chris Gregoire revoked it under a rarely used executive power just days before he was to be released.
At the time of her ruling, a spokeswoman for Gregoire said that no governor had overruled a parole-board decision in at least 30 years.
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Gregoire cited Lain’s more than 20 infractions inside prison, which included threats to staff, according to The Associated Press.
“I am particularly concerned that the potential for violence would be escalated in any future contact with law-enforcement officers that could lead to revocation of his parole release,” Gregoire said in a 2010 statement.
Lain challenged the governor’s authority to overturn the board’s recommendation, saying that his due-process rights were violated because the statute she followed does not establish clear procedures for a governor to cancel or revoke parole. Lain also claimed the board abused its power by adding 36 months to his term after the governor rejected his parole.
“The board is endowed with broad discretion,” González wrote, adding that the board considered psychological evaluations in deciding to extend Lain’s prison sentence. “That the board’s reasons for extending the minimum term are inconsistent with its previous parole order is not a sufficient showing that the board abused its discretion.”
González added that Lain’s “due-process requirements were met when he had a parolability hearing before the board and received written reasons for the governor’s decision to cancel parole.”
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the “case tested whether or not a governor can revoke a parole once a parole board has granted it.”
“Even though it [the executive power] is infrequently used, it’s an important tool the governor has,” Ferguson said. “It was appropriately exercised in this case.”
Lain was an Iowa prison parolee and had left the state without permission when he ended up in Richland.
On Sept. 7, 1982, Richland police Officer Mike Fitzpatrick encountered Lain while investigating a car prowl and Lain stabbed the officer with such force that the knife broke off in his protective vest, according to the Tri-City Herald.
As Fitzpatrick was wrestling the knife away, Lain grabbed the officer’s service revolver, wedged the gun under his vest and fired. He then stood over the fallen officer, put the gun on Fitzpatrick’s chin and fired again.
Fitzpatrick has since left the Eastern Washington police department, Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner said Thursday.
Lain was convicted under the state’s old sentencing guidelines and ordered to serve a minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum sentence of life, with the case subject to review by the state’s parole board.
In 1984, felons started being sentenced to precise sentences and upon release a small percentage report to the state Department of Corrections for community supervision. Parole is no longer used in the state of Washington.
Lain is currently housed in the Twin Rivers Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb, who was called into work the night Fitzpatrick was attacked, said the incident shook their department.
“At the time we were about 50 commissioned officers,” Cobb said. “This was the first officer involved in an incident of this magnitude. We thought it was going to be a line-of-duty death.”
“It’s a good day for Richland PD,” Skinner, the Richland chief, said of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.