A state effort to better help inmates prepare for their parole hearings may have led to the 2012 release of convicted murderer Dameon Wesley, who is accused of going on a rampage Feb. 24 in his girlfriend’s Dayton home and killing 13-year-old Briona Rodgers.
Wesley was released two years after the same parole board deemed him an “undue risk to public safety.”
A Dayton Daily News investigation found Wesley’s family hired an attorney in 2011 to help formulate a parole release plan. At the same time, state prison officials started a program to help inmates prepare for hearings as release rates plummeted.
Wesley, 39, is accused of going on a rampage Feb. 24 in his girlfriend’s Dayton home and shooting two teenage girls — killing one, Briona Rodgers, 13, who died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Wesley had served more than 18 years in prison for killing his roommate, 19-year-old Marvin Williams Jr., in 1994.
Wesley’s ex-girlfriend Dawan Culpepper told a 911 dispatcher that she came home to find Wesley hiding behind her bedroom door with a revolver. “My daughter was shot two times in the head and my niece is shot in the head too,” Dawan Culpepper said during the 911 call.
Wesley was released in September 2012 over the repeated pleas to keep him in prison from both the prosecutor and Williams’ family during his June 19, 2012 hearing
“The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office regularly and consistently voiced its position that this defendant should not be released on parole, but should serve the full life sentence,” said Greg Flannagan, prosecutor Mat Heck Jr.’s spokesman. “That position did not change and it is evident the Ohio Parole Board was well aware of our concerns that this violent offender remained a danger to the community.”
Gwendolyn Williams said she fought to keep her son’s killer in prison. She said that Alonta Culpepper — whose family said is recovering after surgery — and Rodgers, whose funeral is on Monday, didn’t have to get shot.
“That baby would still be alive if they had left him in there and I kind of feel responsible for that baby being dead,” Williams said while fighting through tears. “I fought hard, me and my family members, we fought hard to keep him in there. But there wasn’t anything that I could do.”
A spokesperson for the Ohio Parole Board released a statement that read: “The Parole Board is monitoring the situation closely, and of course expects serious crimes like this to be fully investigated and those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Parole authorities, however, did not know that a sexual assault allegation had been made against Wesley by Dawan Culpepper on Jan. 14, according to Ohio Parole Board spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.
“If the parole officer became aware of the incident, a report being filed or police contact, then the parole officer would respond to the complaint,” Smith said.
That didn’t happen.
The day that Dayton attorney Anthony VanNoy said Wesley quit going to work for him, Dayton police were contacted about a complaint of kidnapping, rape and domestic violence situation where Dawan Culpepper was the victim. The incident happened at Wesley’s last known address at 110 N. McGee St., according to a police incident report.
Flannagan said the office reviewed a rape complaint that Dawan Culpepper made against Wesley in January but declined to file any charges, due to “insufficient evidence.”
Rodgers and Dawan Culpepper’s sister DaQuawna Foster were listed as witnesses on the police incident report.
Jan. 14 also was the last day that Wesley went to work for VanNoy, who helped form a “release plan” the parole board used as a factor in releasing Wesley along with his family’s support.
The Dayton Daily News requested the prosecutor’s letters sent to the parole board after the seven notifications of Wesley’s hearings. Though the letters are not in the public record, the prosecutor could have released them, but chose not to. Montgomery County Victim Advocate Regina Hankins was at Wesley’s 2012 parole hearing, but declined comment and deferred to Flannagan.
The Dayton Daily News has requested prison-related records of the 25-month period between Wesley’s 2010 parole hearing and his 2012 release from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to determine what may have changed in his behavior or status. Smith said those records are confidential and are not subject to open records laws.
But Smith did say other factors included Wesley’s participation in talking to Williams’ family, “coupled with his other programming accomplishments and his demonstration of remorse and insight into his criminal behavior to the Board, and good institutional conduct. In addition, his time served equated to 8 years beyond initial eligibility (for parole).”
Other factors that may have aided in Wesley’s release are more tangible.
Starting midway through 2011, Wesley’s family retained the services of VanNoy, who helped formulate a “release plan” to present to the Ohio Parole Board. VanNoy then employed Wesley from September through Jan. 14, telling the Dayton Daily News that Wesley came to work on time and did what he was supposed to. Wesley did filing, moved boxes and got peoples’ lunches.
“He was doing good,” VanNoy said. “He came to work on time and he did what he was supposed to, until he stopped. It’s tragic.”
The attorney also said: “There are many people who get second chances and do great.”
“I’m a criminal defense lawyer and so you advocate on behalf of your client to the best of your ability based upon the information that’s presented to you,” VanNoy said in an interview with a local television station. “If we had a crystal ball or hindsight or if we could look to the future, we could solve a lot of problems if we can somehow come up with ‘we know that this is going to take place.’ Clearly, we cannot.”
VanNoy added that, as a father, he is sad about Wesley’s alleged new crime.
“What I wish I could do is prevent a tragedy,” he said. “But does that mean locking up and keeping people locked up forever who may not ever re-offend? Because there’s many thousands who don’t re-offend.”
PAROLES RATES HAD FALLEN
Ohio’s parole release percentage had fallen from 48.5 percent in 2004 to 6.9 percent in 2011, in part because officials said most parole-eligible inmates were murderers and sex offenders. The rate drop prompted state prison officials to make changes to help improve inmates’ parole odds. Reducing the overloaded prison population through sentencing guidelines and other means has been a stated goal of Gov. John Kasich.
On June 18, the same day a Dayton Daily News report chronicled the falling release percentages, ODRC Director Gary Mohr dismissed two parole board members. The board, then made up of nine members, already had lost one member who resigned. In announcing the move, a ODRC spokeswoman said Mohr was continuing to “seek the right people for the right positions” to implement Mohr’s reforms.
The dismissal of Jose Torres and Cathy Collins-Taylor, both Gov. Strickland appointees, was criticized as a partisan political move.
“These two individuals have served the board well and to remove them at this time makes it appear as if they are being targeted because of their party affiliation, not because of their job qualifications,” Tracy Maxwell Heard, Democratic Minority Whip, wrote in a letter to Mohr.
ODRC Director Gary Mohr told the Dayton Daily News in June 2012: “The people the parole board is seeing right now have some pretty challenging and pretty tough cases. It is not easy to say, ‘OK, this is enough time for this particular offense.’ “
In July 2012, Mohr hired Marc Houk, Andre Imbrogno and Ron Nelson Jr., who were said to be “committed to (Mohr’s) reform efforts.” Since those three were hired, a higher percentage of felons have been paroled.
RATES AGAIN RISING
From January to May 2012, the state’s parole release rate was 12.25 percent. From June through November, the period when the board decided on Wesley’s release, that percentage jumped to 20.1.
By the day of Wesley’s hearing on June 19, 2012, Collins-Taylor said she and Torrest were gone. She said the board’s 5-to-8-person parole panels usually heard between nine and 14 parole hearings per day, and it is a “full-time-plus job.”
Even though the board was down to six members for the full-board hearing, Smith said at least five yes votes were still needed. The six members who were on the board the day of Wesley’s last hearing were: Chair Cynthia B. Mausser, Kathleen Kovach, Ellen Venters, R.F. Rauschenberg and Trayce Thalheimer. At least five had to have voted for Wesley’s release. Votes are not made public.
The full parole board is now comprised of 11 people; Ohio law allows the board to be as large as 12 members.
Brett Vinocur, president of Block Parole Inc., a Columbus advocacy group for victims, said a new law termed Roberta’s Law will into effect March 22, and will help actively seek out victims and give them opportunities to speak.
“For anyone convicted of a crime before 1996, the state did not have to notify victims. They were never informed of the parole. This may help keep some in prison,” Vinocur said.
In the Wesley case, the family did everything right to testify against his release, Vinocur said.
“This was a bad call from the parole board,” Vinocur said.
Craig Powell, founder and executive coordinator of PowerNet of Dayton, a non-profit reentry program for ex-cons, said the parole board can’t be blamed.
“They cannot read minds; they’re not clairvoyant. All they can do is follow a process or procedure. The parole board is basing their decisions primarily on the inmate while they are incarcerated,” he said.
Powell said the community needs to take more responsibility.
“The community needs to make an absolute commitment to engage, surround and support a person when they are released,” he said.
Dameon Wesley timeline
Events related to the state parole board and the parole case of Dameon Lareese Wesley, Ohio inmate No. 289-569:
1994: Wesley, then 19 years old, sentenced to 15 years to life for murdering his roommate, Marvin Williams Jr., by shooting him in the chest and in the head at point-blank range. Williams died Jan. 4.
2004: Wesley denied parole, board cites five infractions and that “institutional conduct has been poor.”
2008: Wesley denied parole, board states he obtained his GED but that “he is a more serious risk and not suitable for release.”
2010: Wesley denied parole, board states his release into society would “create undue risk to public safety and would not be in the interest of justice.”
Summer 2011: Dayton attorney Anthony VanNoy starts working on Wesley’s case and formulating a parole release plan.
June 18, 2012: Dayton Daily News reports Ohio’s parole release rate has fallen to 6.9 percent and that the pool of convicts now eligible for parole are largely composed of murderers adn child molesters. The parole release rate was 48.5 percent in 2004.
June 18, 2012: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr dismisses board members Cathy Collins-Taylor and Jose Torres, both appointees of former Gov. Ted Strickland, leaving the board with six acting members.
June 19, 2012: Wesley recommended for release during full-board hearing, board cites that Wesley has made “acceptable institutional adjustment” and that he has “formulated an appropriate release plan.” Five votes were still needed for a majority with a six-member board (with three vacancies).
July 2012: Mohr appoints Marc Houk, Andre Imbrogno and Ron Nelson Jr. to replace Collins-Taylor, Torres and Bobby Bogan, who left the board in June. Media reports state the appointees were “committed to (Mohr’s) reform efforts.”
Sept. 4, 2012: Wesley is released from prison and starts work at VanNoy’s law office, with duties such as filing, moving boxes and picking up lunch.
Jan. 14, 2013: Wesley’s last day working for VanNoy, who said he wanted to talk to Wesley about possibly returning to work.
Jan. 14: A rape complaint is made against Wesley by Dawan Culpepper, who had been Wesley’s girlfriend. The prosecutor’s office states it has “insufficient evidence” to charge Wesley. Ohio parole officials didn’t know of the allegation.
Jan. 21: VanNoy said Wesley was officially “released” from working at his firm.
Feb. 24: Police accuse Wesley of shooting Dawan Culpepper’s 13-year-old daughter, Briona Rodgers, in the head and causing Rodgers’ death. Police allege Wesley also shoots Rodgers’ cousin, Alonta Culpepper, in the head. Alonta Culpepper survives.
Feb. 26: Police arrest Wesley early Tuesday morning after he allegedly fled the scene of a hit-skip car crash. Wesley, 39, is booked into Montgomery County Jail and apologizes to the Culpepper family and to “guys up in prison who had faith in me.” Expected charges include one count of murder, three counts of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated burglary, one count of kidnapping, three counts of felonious assault with a deadly weapon and one count of having weapons under disability.
March 8: Wesley scheduled for a preliminary hearing on felony charges.
Sources: Ohio Parole Board, police and court documents, media reports
Mark Gokavi and Kelli Wynn - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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