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Published: 1/12/2006

Court orders release of inmate who says he didn't know of parole

ASSOCIATE PRESS

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court today ordered the state to release a man who claims his trial judge never told him he faced parole after finishing his sentence.

The unusually quick order came just one day after the court heard arguments in the case.

State lawyers are concerned the ruling may force them to review thousands of sentences handed down in the past decade.

Henry Hernandez, 33, of the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn, was released last year after serving seven years for cocaine possession. He was sent to the Lorain Correctional Institution in October to serve a 160-day sentence for violating his parole.

He was released from the prison in Grafton about 7 p.m. today, said Andrea Dean, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Hernandez's lawyer, John Parker, had argued that the judge at his trial never told Hernandez that he would be subject to supervision by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority and that those conditions weren't included in the official court record.

The state had argued that parole was mandated by state sentencing laws for first- and second-degree felonies and didn't need a judge's OK.

Hernandez traveled to Texas in June with another ex-felon and was detained by police, all without telling the parole authority, which ordered him returned to prison when it found out.

Today's ruling also releases Hernandez from parole authority supervision.

The court did not state its reasons for the unanimous ruling but planned to issue an opinion as soon as possible, court spokesman Chris Davey said.

"I'm thrilled for my client, I'm thrilled for justice," Parker said. "It reinforces some faith in the system."

Parker had not spoken with Hernandez, he said late today. However, family members were joyous over the release, Parker said.

"They are thrilled beyond belief. His mother was crying when I told her. She works at a factory and was on a break," Parker said.

Attorney General Jim Petro's office was awaiting the opinion and hoping it applies to Hernandez alone and not to the more than 5,000 inmates who have been paroled under a 1996 sentencing law, spokeswoman Kim Norris said.

"We're hopeful the court would agree with what our argument has been all along: The judges advising these individuals in court or not, reminding them either way, does not remove the fact of the law," Norris said.

The 1996 law replaced open-ended sentencing with fixed sentences. For example, an inmate sentenced under the old law to 10 to 25 years is instead sentenced to seven years _ the length of Hernandez's original sentence.

Despite not knowing at trial that he would be under state supervision, Hernandez was told of the rules upon his release from prison last February, Parker said.

Failing to notify parole officials of leaving the state, having associated with a felon and having been detained by police are violations that can return a parolee to prison.

The man traveling with Hernandez was driving and pulled over for speeding. Police found $18,000 in a case and charged the driver with money laundering, according to a parole authority report.

Parker noted that Hernandez has not been charged with a crime since his release last year. Hernandez told parole officials that he went to Texas so his friend would not have to travel alone and he didn't tell the authority about being detained because he wasn't arrested and didn't think he had to report it, the report said.



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