When the Rhode Island Parole Board granted parole to convicted murderer Alfred Brissette in November 2013, its decision was widely criticized.
Among the critics was Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, whose office issued a statement at the time saying Brissette’s crime was "so egregious that the Parole Board should have come to a different conclusion."
Now, state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, who is running against Kilmartin for attorney general, is criticizing the Democratic incumbent’s actions in the case.
"When the press went to the parole board and said ‘how can you let an animal like this loose,’ they responded by saying, well, we never received an objection from the attorney general or from the victim’s family,’" Hodgson, a North Kingstown Republican, said in a March 27 interview on the public-access TV show "State of the State."
"Nobody was there to speak for somebody who couldn’t speak for herself," Hodgson said.
We wondered whether Hodgson had his facts straight.
First, a little background.
In June 1999, Brissette and Marc Girard, both 25, were arrested and charged with luring Jeannette Descoteaux from her hometown of Woonsocket to the woods of Burrillville where they beat her to death. Brissette hit her multiple times in the head with a lug wrench.
Girard went to trial, was found guilty by a jury in 2001 and sentenced to life. Brissette pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in 2004 and was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison. (The sentence included the time he spent since being imprisoned at the Adult Correctional Institutions since 1999.)
The judge in the case, Judith Savage, excoriated Brissette, describing him as a thrill killer who simply wanted to see someone die.
Brissette was initially granted parole in June 2012, with a projected release in December, but concerns about whether he could meet the conditions of the release prompted the board to delay his release until November 2013, about 14 years after he was first jailed.
The board cited Brissette’s clean prison disciplinary record, and his participation in ACI rehabilitation programs and the programs set up to monitor and support him after release.
Was Hodgson right that Kilmartin hadn’t objected to Brissette’s parole?
"That is correct," Kilmartin spokeswoman Amy Kempe said.
The Brissette parole exposed a flaw in the parole process that has since been corrected, Kempe said.
At the time, she said, the attorney general’s office would get a list of inmates up for consideration, sometimes as few as 10 days or so before the board met. The prosecutors in the office would review the list to determine whether they should raise any objections.
If that list had two dozen or more names, the review could take time, she said. Brissette’s case was 14 years old, and none of the prosecutors who worked on it were still employed by the department, so no one raised an objection, Kempe said.
Since the Brissette case, Kempe said the attorney general’s office now gets the parole lists a month or even two months ahead of time, which gives the office enough time to investigate each request.
It also gives the office staff time to prepare an argument for its position, Kempe said. That was important, she said, because if the attorney general’s office simply opposed every parole request automatically, the office’s objections would become commonplace and lose their credibility.
Parole Board Chairman Kenneth Walker declined to explain why the board approved Brissette’s release other than to say the board has confidence in the program devised for him. He said the lack of a recommendation from the attorney general had no effect on the board’s decision.
Dawson T. Hodgson said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office didn’t oppose the parole request of convicted murderer Alfred Brissette.
Kilmartin’s spokeswoman and the chairman of the parole board confirmed that was correct.
We rule Hodgson’s statement True.