Corrections Commissioner agrees to appear at hearing on murderers' parolesby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota's Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy says he has agreed to appear at a legislative hearing called by Republican leaders after an uproar over Roy's decision to parole two convicted murders.
"Commissioner Roy has released two convicted killers who were sentenced to life for their heinous and egregious crimes," House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said in a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton.
Characterizing Roy's decision on Eling as "unprecedented," Zellers and Koch said, "We have asked Senator Warren Limmer, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Tony Cornish, Chair of the House Public Safety Crime Prevention Committee, to hold legislative hearings on this matter."
One of the paroled convicts, John Scruggs, was a Minneapolis gang leader. He was paroled in March after serving 25 years of a sentence for ordering the execution of a teenage girl suspected of being a police informant. Records obtained under the Data Practices law show former DOC Commissioner Joan Fabian placed Scruggs on a path to parole, and the DOC says Roy saw no reason to reverse Fabian's decision.
The other man, Timothy Eling, was serving a life sentence for the 1982 killing of Oakdale police officer Richard Walton during a gunbattle inside a hospital pharmacy in St. Paul.
Roy approved Eling's parole in a letter last month. In it, he says Eling has "transformed himself through hard work." But critics say Roy should have honored a state law passed in 1993 that keeps people who kill cops in prison for life without possibility of parole.
"It obviously was the will of the state Legislature to create in Minnesota a very harsh penalty," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. "They wanted people convicted of murdering cops to serve the rest of their lives in prison."
Gov. Dayton's spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said the law is clear on the issue.
"Personally, Gov. Dayton believes that anyone who kills a law enforcement officer should serve life in prison," Tinucci said. "However that was not the law when Mr. Eling was sentenced."
"The Legislature in their wisdom left that decision to grant parole, or not, to the commissioner, who is a career professional, not for the politicians to decide," she said.
Dayton appointed Roy to lead the Department of Corrections in January. In a statement Friday afternoon, Roy said he looks forward to meeting with legislators, "To provide them with accurate information about our state's parole system."