No Parole for Killers, No Matter How Old

by Kerry Doherty

Autumn, with its crisp temperatures, pumpkin spice and vibrant colors, seems to be everyone’s favorite season.

Not Paige O’Shaughnessy’s.

In fact, each year when the season changes she’s reminded of the hellish fall of 2000. That was the year her husband, Timothy O’Shaughnessy, 40, was murdered in his downtown Norfolk office.

It was Tuesday, November 7, when he was killed by an unhinged former employee bearing a grudge, a golf club and a gun.

Paige O’Shaughnessy was left alone to raise their four sons, ages 9 months, 2 1/2 years old, 4 1/2 years old and six.

The killer was stockbroker Joseph Ludlam. He beat the man who’d fired him from his job five weeks earlier and when the golf club broke, he stabbed O’Shaughnessy with the shaft and then shot him. Twice.

Ludlam stole O’Shaughnessy’s wallet, car keys and car and sped to his parents’ house in South Carolina where he holed up for 18 hours. He was finally arrested and charged with capital murder.

After numerous delays, Ludlam’s murder trial was finally set. But on Columbus Day of 2002 then-Commonwealth’s Attorney for Norfolk, Jack Doyle (now a retired circuit court judge), contacted the widow and said Ludlam had agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in return for a prison term of no more than 40 years.

She’d be spared the ordeal of a trial, the state would be spared the expense and the murderer would be locked up for a very long time.

Mrs. O’Shaughnessy recalls the prosecutor reassuring her that, “He’ll be an old man when he gets out.”

“This gives us an assured conviction, and he waives his rights to appeal,” Doyle told The Daily Press at the time. “Forty years is virtually a life sentence.”

Not exactly.

There was one factor no one mentioned: geriatric parole.

Fast forward to Columbus Day of this year and Paige O’Shaughnessy was in California. At 6:30 a.m. she got a call from an unknown 800 number. When she checked her voicemail, she was speechless:

Parole? Since when does 23 years equal 40, she wondered.

Suddenly it was the horrific fall of 2000 all over again. The shock and fear were back. Along with the thought that her husband’s cold-blooded killer might be on the loose again.

How could this happen in Virginia, she wanted to know, which had abolished parole in 1996?

Turns out Ludlam hit the Virginia inmate jackpot: his 60th birthday was coming up. He was eligible for geriatric parole.

Paige O’Shaughnessy was livid. Why should the man who left her little boys fatherless and her a young widow, who plotted and killed his former boss, ever get out of prison, let alone 18 years early?

She’d read about the freeing spree the last parole board engaged in. When murderers – including a cop killer – were released. In fact, it was in the midst of those news stories that she’d checked in with the corrections department to make sure Ludlam was not on the list of those who were out. She’d updated her cell phone number at that time. If she hadn’t, she may not have known about Ludlam’s hearing.

“No one told me about geriatric parole back then (in 2002),” she told me yesterday “I wouldn’t have agreed to the deal if they had.”

Immediately after receiving the notification about Ludlam’s hearing O’Shaughnessy tried to reach the parole board to register her objection. She also contacted the Norfolk’s Commonwealth attorney’s office, which she said seemed decidedly uninterested in the case.

But when she phoned the office of Virginia’s Attorney General, she was able to talk to one of the top state prosecutors who is helping her keep Ludlam behind bars.

Ludlam’s parole hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8th and Paige O’Shaughnessy is determined to be there. She wants the members of the board to see her face. She wants them to understand what this killer did to her family. Three of her four sons have almost no memory of their dad.

The killer who devastated her family should stay in prison until his sentence is up. she says.

“As far as I’m concerned he’s a danger to society,” Paige O’Shaughnessy says. “If they let him out what will he do? He won’t be able to get a job. How many people want to hire a 60-year-old murderer?”

How many want a 60-year-old killer living next door?

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s parole board is not the bleeding-heart mess that Ralph Northam’s was. But once parole hearings start they recur and Paige O’Shaughnessy is rattled.

Elections can change everything. The possibility that this cold-blooded killer could be freed before his entire sentence is served is a real possibility.

Virginia’s parole board needs to do simple math: 23 does not equal 40.

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.