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New law ensures crime victims and families can speak up during parole process

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 2:57 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Crime victims and their families on Tuesday won the right to speak to the Board of Probation and Parole when it considers releasing a person who committed a crime against them.

“This bill levels the playing field and treats victims with the respect they deserve,” said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, the bill's sponsor.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 14 of 2013, which allows victims or their representatives to appear personally before the parole board and testify in connection with an inmate's application for parole. The law, which will take effect Sept. 1, was sparked by a well publicized Montgomery County case involving a woman killed by her husband.

Rafael Robb, an economics professor, received a five- to 10-year prison sentence for killing his wife, Ellen Gregory Robb, in 2006. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for beating her to death while she wrapped Christmas presents.

She was beaten so badly that a police officer said her injuries “looked like a shotgun blast in the face,” said her brother, Gary Gregory.

The parole board late last year approved Robb's parole but rescinded its decision in January because of intense media coverage and public protests.

Vereb, a former police officer, said the law should bring some comfort to crime victims.

“It certainly helps to ensure that Rafael Robb and other threats to society like him stay behind bars upon in-person testimony from crime victims and their families,” Vereb said.

Vereb said the law clarifies that victims and family members have the right to testify in person or video conference. Previously, they could write letters or call the parole board.

“We have an obligation to honor the rights and sometimes the memories of the people who have suffered from crime,” Corbett said. “That is what House Bill 492 is intended to do: Remove any obstacles or misunderstanding that might diminish the voices of victims, their representatives or their survivors.”

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman advocated for the law.

“Crime victims across Pennsylvania were not being given their rights because their voices were not being truly heard under the current parole process,” Ferman said. “Luckily, that will now change.”

The Probation and Parole board supported the bill, as did other agencies and groups including the Attorney General's Office, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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