Parole Board Sets Free Another Murderer

Tonya Chapman, former Portsmouth police chief, now chairman of the Virginia Parole Board. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

Letter from Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, sent yesterday to Governor Ralph Northam.

Dear Governor Northam,

In August 2019, the Parole Board denied Harry J. Williams, DOC # 1008730, parole. These are the reasons they gave Mr. Williams:

  1. His history of substance abuse.
  2. The serious nature and circumstances of his offense(s).
  3. His prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicated that he was unlikely to comply with conditions of release.

On June 22nd, just ten months later, the Parole Board miraculously concluded these reasons no longer existed, and decided Mr. Williams should be released from prison.

You may not be familiar with the crime Mr. Williams was convicted of years ago, so I will take this opportunity to review the case for you. Mr. Williams was convicted of 1st Degree Murder for shooting and killing Mr. James M. Sarver at his home, just northeast of Danville in Pittsylvania County.

Williams went to the Sarver family’s home. When Williams got there, Mr. and Mrs. Sarver, their 14-year-old son James, their 13-year-old daughter Linda, and their two younger daughters, Dianne and Nancy Marie, had gone to bed. Hearing a noise, Mr. Sarver went to the front door and opened it. Sarver talked briefly with Williams, after which Williams shot Sarver in the head, killing him.

As Mr. Sarver fell dead at his front door, Williams entered the house, went into two of the bedrooms, shot and wounded Sarver’s wife, shot “Little Jim” in the stomach and then shot 9-year-old Nancy Marie in the chest. Williams then shot again at, but missed, Mrs. Sarver. His gun now empty, he tossed it and grabbed Dianne around the neck and “shook her like a chicken” trying to choke her.

Linda, who had followed Williams when he carried Dianne out of their bedroom, saw her mother lying in the hall “like Williams had been beating her.” To protect her mother Linda struck Williams with a mop or broom handle, whereupon he grabbed Linda’s hands and dragged her out of the house. While he was dragging Linda across the front lawn, the lights from a passing automobile lit up the yard. A wounded Mrs. Sarver, who was following Williams and Linda, shouted that the police were coming, and like a coward — Williams ran.

Does this sound like a man who should ever have been released from prison?

On October 14, 2020 I spoke with Bryan Haskins, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Pittsylvania County, and he reported that his office had received ZERO communication from the Parole Board regarding this matter; which seemed remarkable since the decision to release Williams had been made nearly four months earlier. On October 17th, three days after I shared the information regarding the Parole Board’s decision involving Mr. Williams on the Senate floor,
Bryan Haskins’ office received a facsimile from the Department of Corrections, pursuant to that department’s notification requirement found in §53.1-160, informing his office of the upcoming release of Mr. Williams on October 29th.

This was the only notice the Commonwealth’s Attorney office ever received regarding this matter, which prevented them from having any input at all on the Parole Board’s decision. More importantly, I am deeply concerned that none of the surviving family members were provided notice or afforded an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Once again, I am appealing to you to intervene, place a moratorium on all Parole Board decisions and thoroughly investigate the Parole Board’s actions to ensure they are consistent with their policies and procedures. The Office of the Inspector General has already revealed some genuine red flags that are steadily eroding the trust that Virginians have in the parole system. As governor, you are entrusted with the safety and security of the Commonwealth. I beseech your immediate attention to this dangerous situation.

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10 responses to “Parole Board Sets Free Another Murderer

  1. Regardless of how many laws were broken or regulations ignored, I doubt there will be an investigation. I get the distinct impression that the parole board is doing exactly what Mr. Northam wants them to do. I hope I am wrong.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese

    Hold on… the guy at the Virginia Mercury said Portsmouth was ruled by racist tyrants in his latest article…. they had a left-leaning black female police chief?
    Man those white nationalists sure know how to cover their tracks!

  3. Here’s the problem. The Parole Board has enormous power to make totally arbitrary decisions without regard to any real standards or criteria.

    They can and do – totally reverse themselves between two considerations.

    In otherwords, they totally reject folks that may really be deserving then sometime later they may set them free even though the basic conditions used to deny in the first time are not changed.

    That’s a bad way for ANY parole board to operate. We had that problem for years with judges before they started using sentencing guidelines. We need something like that for parole boards. They should not be able to unilaterally make arbitrary decisions without guidelines and accountability.

    • Damn. I agree completely with LarrytheG! I’d only add that the transcripts of parole board hearings should be public information.

      • The more I think about it the more outrageous it sounds – that they have so much power without any real accountability – and as we see – it can go bad both ways – pro and con… in the end – it’s too much power without any safeguards.

      • “…the transcripts of parole board hearings should be public information.”

        I agree 100%.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    The Chief of the Parole Board was relieved/resigned of her duties as the Portsmouth, VA police chief. Hmmm…

    https://www.pilotonline.com/government/local/vp-nw-portsmouth-police-chief-parole-board-20200320-xbh33csmbzbavatnyxsc7v7wra-story.html

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Interesting that Mr. Sarver was originally given the death penalty. Went to the State Supreme Court. I assume somewhere along the legal journey Mr. Sarver received a lesser sentence. My first cousin was the judge in the original case. I am pretty sure he would not be pleased by this. Judge Jones might still be mad about me taking the last ham steak at a Sunday supper at his house many years ago. A 15 year old and an 80 year old having a fork fight over the last slab of country ham. I won. This case goes all the way back to 1966.
    https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1333860/williams-v-commonwealth/

    • That can’t be. Progressives argue against the death penalty by claiming life imprisonment will ensure the convicted murderer will never get out of prison and again put the public at risk. But their real goal is to replace prison with social programs and higher taxes.

  6. Good Grief TMT! Most folks no matter their politics want people with violent histories of behavior to be kept apart from society.

    The rubs come with non-violent offenses… especially those classified as felonies.

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