Another Let-Em-Out-of-Prison Campaign by the Press

by Kerry Dougherty

In a news story dripping with undisguised advocacy, the Virginian-Pilot last weekend published a piece practically begging for the early release from prison of a man serving 80 years for a string of armed robberies in 1997.

“His debt is paid, Portsmouth Man Fights For Pardon Of 80-Year-Sentence,” screamed the headline.

Virginia abolished parole in 1995 and only felons sentenced before that date or are old enough to qualify as geriatrics are sprung early. The Virginia Parole Board’s outrageous release of at least eight killers and other violent felons last year turned into a political scandal as the self-described bleeding hearts on that board acted with unbridled arrogance, wantonly breaking rules to get criminals out of prison.

That out-of-control Parole Board consisted of a mixture of members appointed by Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam.

Felons sentenced after the abolition of parole have two ways out of prison: escape or petition the governor to grant a pardon.

Northam has turned into a one-man parole board, freeing 604 prisoners so far — more than the past nine Virginia governors together, according to the newspaper. In other words, Northam casually substitutes his judgment for that of Virginia’s judges and juries, which had their reasons for handing down lengthy sentences.

Lucky us.

Why hasn’t Northam acted on Ronald Davis’ request? No doubt he’s waiting till after the election to set loose hundreds more criminals during his last months in office. No point in highlighting his party’s soft-on-crime policies while McAuliffe is in such a tight race.

Northam, who’s fond of saying he’s all for “second chances,” is being modest. He’s actually for 56 chances. Last spring, David Allen Simpkins was arrested in Roanoke. The McAuliffe/Northam parole board had released him despite 56 prior felonies including 14 armed robberies and at least one forcible sodomy. He’s back in prison, but a Democrat governor is likely to let him out again, even without a newspaper campaign to free him.

Back to the paper. These the-justice-system-done-him-wrong stories are nothing new, just a tedious feature of newspapers. Liberal reporters were writing them during my entire 42-year career in daily newspapers. They were often shocked to learn from new DNA evidence that inmates they foolishly believed to be innocent were actually guilty.

There’s a formula to these: The writer latches onto a criminal with a long prison sentence, tells you about what a sweet boy the felon was before he was either abused/got in with the wrong crowd/or became hooked on drugs. Oh, it’s always noted that the criminal has a disability — in this case it was ADHD — before committing the crime that cost him his freedom.

And somewhere, near the top of the story the writer declares that no one was hurt during the crime.

Oh, and the reporters always neglect to talk to the victims. It doesn’t fit the narrative to hear that 25 years after some freak pointed a gun at her head, the convenience store clerk or restaurant worker still suffers from PTSD.

I actually covered courts for The Pilot in the 1980s. I made it a habit to talk to victims. Their lives are never the same after spending time with some strung-out crackhead brandishing a gun or locking them in a freezer.

In October of 1997 Ronald Davis and his accomplice went on a two-man, four-city, eight-location armed robbery spree. Here’s a timeline, as best I can piece together from 25-year-old stories.

On October 16, they held up the Red Barn Restaurant in Suffolk and the Southern Food Convenience Store in Isle of Wight.

On October 20, they robbed a Burger King on Jefferson Boulevard in Newport News.

On October 23rd, they held up a clothing store, the Church Street Discount store in Norfolk.

On October 24th they robbed a McDonald’s on Jefferson Boulevard in Newport News.

On October 25th they were very busy cleaning out cash registers. They knocked over the Sentry Food Market in Norfolk and a Night and Day Market in Newport News.

On October 26 the duo hit a McDonald’s in Newport News.

Because a handgun was used in the robberies and there are mandatory minimum sentences for using a firearm in the commission of a felony, Davis got 38 years on gun charges alone. He got another 42 years for the eight armed robberies.

He’s been in prison for 25 years, so Davis hasn’t even finished serving time on the gun charges.

The newspaper points out that it was Davis’ accomplice who held the gun, as if it makes any difference which hairball is holding the gun and which is emptying the cash register.

Make no mistake, Davis will be out of prison before the end of Northam’s term. He just won’t get out before next Tuesday.

Frankly, Northam doesn’t need the newspaper goading him into the release. He’ll do it on his own.

This column is republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.