I have been doing my homework for our upcoming Parole Hearing for the man who murdered my son, Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, on March 21, 1996.
The hearing seemed so far away when Mark James Taylor was sentenced in 1997. Then, I was relieved that the biggest, most all-consuming job I had ever had was over, and I didn’t have to think about Christopher’s murder every second for a while.
I have always known the Parole Hearing was coming. But for years I didn’t think about it; I just knew it was on the horizon. But now it is looming, scheduled for late July or early August, 2012. I won’t admit how often I check the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website to see if his name is there yet.
I’ve already begun preparing. In 2011 I started by speaking with the District Attorney who handled my trial. We have run into each other at local events every so often, and he has told me he’s willing to help be a guide for the process we are entering.
I also spoke with an inmate whom I know from my work at San Quentin. He is now a free man and had many parole hearings before he was granted release. I wanted him to describe the process for me from his point of view.
I do know the Board of Parole Hearings consists of twelve commissioners, appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. They are assisted by Deputy Commissioners who are civil servant employees of the state.
There are two general classes of inmates in our California prison system: Inmates who are sentenced to determinate sentences, such as a term of 7 years, serve a finite period of time that has been set by the criminal court, and upon expiration of the sentence, they are released.
Inmates sentenced to an indeterminate term, such as life with the possibility of
parole, are released only after it is determined that they s not a current, unreasonable risk of danger to the public. Mark James Taylor’s sentence is indeterminate.
The Board of Parole Hearings conducts life prisoner hearings to determine whether the inmate is suitable for parole. At the hearing, the panel considers all relevant and reliable information in the individual case. If an inmate is found unsuitable for parole–they’ve committed a crime in prison, have not engaged in any life programming, for example– statutory law requires that the next hearing be set 15, 10, 3, 5 or 7 years in the future.
Parole suitability hearings are not conducted to determine the inmate’s guilt or innocence of the underlying life crime. The Board accepts as established the guilty verdict imposed by the court. Parole is granted because the prisoner has served at least two-thirds of their sentence and capable of becoming a productive member of society and their community.
The panel will set a release date, unless it determines that public safety requires a longer period of incarceration. Regulations state that regardless of the length of time the inmate has been in prison, he or she shall be found unsuitable and denied parole if the panel determines that the prisoner poses an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison.
In general, a parole hearing will consist of:
- Review with inmate his/her rights
- Review crime
- Review pre-life crime factors
- Review inmate’s central file
- Review parole plans
- Closing/impact statements.
Inmates are entitled to legal counsel at their hearings. The District Attorney from the prosecuting county (in this case Alameda) may ask clarifying questions and render a statement on the question of parole suitability. The victims of crime and/or their representatives may attend the hearing and address the panel with their comments on suitability and/or the impact of the crime.
This is where I come in. As of now, I’m planning to read a written statement, which expresses my feelings and observations about Mark Taylor’s potential parole. Although it is fairly certain Mark Taylor won’t be granted parole this time (prisoners generally appear before the Parole Board between three and six times before being granted release), I believe it is my job as a mother to speak on behalf of Christopher, who cannot.
I will post more information as I do my homework. Writing about this
helps with the assignment. This has become a current event in my life!