Lawmakers calls for parole reform, change to victim impact statements

March 11, 2019 09:21 AM

In December of 2012 two Shenendehowa high school seniors, Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers were tragically killed by a drunken and drugged driver on the Northway.

While the pain of losing a child never goes away for these two families, they're faced with remembering the accident every two years when their child's convicted killer is up for parole.  

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"It's tough in that you actually are reliving it," said Mike Stewart, father of Christopher Stewart.

They're reliving it because, each time there's a parole hearing the families have a chance to give a victim impact statement at the hearing.

"This was our time as a victim or victim family to fight the system and agree why he shouldn't be let out," said Stewart.

Only as the Stewart family found out, the process wasn't exactly what they had anticipated. They were unable to give their victim's impact statement in front of their son's killer. Instead, they gave it to a single parole board member and the statement wasn't recorded for other board members to see.

"You have to hope that this person is going to be one of them so at least that person is seeing the emotions and everything involved," said Stewart.

Seven years after the accident, the Stewarts are now fighting for legislation thanks to a bill created by Sen. Jim Tedisco and Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh.

"They should see the pain and the impact and hear the voices of those individuals that are facing the tragedy. Parole takes place every 24 months, every two years. They have to go through this tragedy, relive it," said Tedisco.

If passed, the bill will require victim impact statements to be recorded for everyone involved with a parole hearing to see.

Also included in the legislation is an increase in time between parole hearings from 24 to 60 months.

"The victim impact statement, if it's going to be an impact, has to be with the individuals personally, in this case who are the parole commissioner, we are interviewing the potential people up for parole" said. Tedisco.

The Stewart family says although this may not help their case, they think it may help bring peace for others.


Brooke Selby

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