12 at the Capitol: Crime victims question big spike in sentence reductions

Former inmates said they earned their freedom, but some lawmakers and crime victims are angry at the new policy.

John Craven

Mar 20, 2023, 10:04 PM

Updated 451 days ago


Connecticut’s Board of Pardons and Paroles defended a huge jump in sentence commutations at a contentious hearing Monday. Former inmates said they earned their freedom, but some lawmakers and crime victims are angry at the new policy.
One of those victims is Katiria Sanchez. Her brother Edgar was murdered in Norwalk in 2007.
“That was very difficult because the entire time, I was prayerful and hopeful, and that prayer wasn't answered,” Sanchez told News 12 Connecticut in late 2021.
One of Sanchez's killers, Victor Smalls, could be released this year – because the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles shaved two decades off his 45-year sentence.
Smalls is part of a sudden spike in commutations. From 2016 to 2019, the board of only reduced five sentences, according to Board of Pardons and Paroles statistics. That’s just 2.2% of all applicants. But over the past year-and-a-half, they've granted 71 commutations – 16% of all requests.
For hours Monday, Republicans on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee grilled board chairman Carleton Giles, a former Norwalk police officer. Giles insisted the policy wasn’t a sudden change, but originated with former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Second Chance Society initiative of the mid-2010s.
“Second Chance Society is one thing,” said state Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield). “Shaving off decades off of a sentence of a horrendous murder, that's a totally different thing.”
Those released early told lawmakers they've turned their lives around.
“I am an honor student at Asnuntuck Community College,” said former inmate Norman Gaines Jr. “Right now, I'm at 44% completion of my associate degree for human services.”
But victims have said they felt blindsided. Elizabeth Carlson was murdered, and her ex-boyfriend accepted a 42-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. But this year, he applied for a commuted sentence.
“The opportunity for commutation of his sentence in any manner was never, never an option brought to our attention,” said Carlson’s sister, Leslie.
Giles insisted all applications go through a thorough vetting process before inmates even get a hearing.
“Victims, as I said, are involved in our process, and we take very seriously the input and impact of victims,” said Giles.
Republican lawmakers recently called on Gov. Ned Lamont to halt commutations until a new system is created. Lamont said Monday he's open to changes, but the Board of Pardons and Paroles must keep its independence.
“We just have to decide as a legislature and as a state,” said Lamont. “We're not a ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ type of state.”
For Katiria Sanchez, none of it brings back her brother.
“At the end of the day, whatever decision is made is not going to take away that the fact that my brother isn’t with us anymore,” she said.
In spite of the criticism, the Judiciary Committee advanced Giles' nomination for another term as chairman along party lines.

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