Police chief wants governor's intervention in convicted murderer's parole

Published: May. 1, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT
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The 1979 murder of a Richmond police officer is back at the forefront of attention for local police officers. That's because the man convicted of his murder is set to be released this month.

"Its our position that someone who commits a crime of this nature should never ever be paroled," said Roanoke County Chief of Police Howard Hall.

Hall is the current president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. He's written a letter to Governor Ralph Northam, because of an inmate's release.

Recently, Virginia's Parole Board voted to release an offender named Vincent Lamont Martin on parole. Martin was convicted, twice, for the 1979 murder of Richmond Police officer Michael Conners, who was 23 years old at the time.

Martin has been in prison since, and is currently incarcerated at the Nottaway Correctional Facility.

Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea is on the parole board, which recently voted to release Martin.

Lea declined an interview with us but referred to a letter written by the outgoing chair of the board, in which the Chairman defended the decision.

In this letter, former Chair Adrianne Bennett wrote, "Vincent Martin has demonstrated himself over the decades to be a trusted leader, peacemaker, mediator and mentor in the correctional community. Vincent Martin consistently receives strong support from Department of Corrections staff."

Bennett also noted Martin has been infraction-free for 30 years and often prevents and breaks up fights in the facility.

Bennett wrote the board had also received input from Officer Conners' family, writing, "Since March of 2020, the family has provided a significant amount of oral and written input to the Parole Board, which was considered by the Board Members prior to making a decision."

But many law enforcement agencies, and the Virginia Association of Police Chiefs, have vehemently disagreed with the decision.

On a letter on behalf of the agency, Chief Hall asked Governor Northam to put a halt on the order and requested that his office investigate the parole board for errors they believe were made in the decision.

Hall noted Conners' manner of death in his letter. Hall detailed the moments leading to his death, in which Conners had been called to respond to a 7-11 robbery. He made a traffic stop immediately after the robbery.

"Evidence showed that, as Patrolman Conners approached the vehicle, Vincent Lamont Martin exited the vehicle and fired one round from a .357 magnum, which struck Patrolman Conners in the throat. As Patrolman Conners lay on the ground, Martin then emptied his revolver into Patrolman Conners' face a point-blank range."

The parole board chair noted the disagreement from law enforcement in the letter, saying the rebuttal, "is highly concerning and contradictory to an unbiased criminal justice system."

Hall disagrees.

"That's ridiculous," he said. "...Last time I checked that was part of our society, the opportunity to question public decision."

Hall said he has not received any word back from the governor yet.

The new chair of the parole board took office the day after the previous chair wrote that letter. She had no comment for us, either.

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