13 Investigates: why a proposed parole change might ease victims’ pain but hurt progress
13 Investigates continues to follow the push by some victims’ families to decrease the frequency of parole hearings in New York State for people convicted of some of the most violent offenses.
The effort includes the family of Katy Hawelka. September marked 37 years since 19-year-old Hawelka was raped and murdered at Clarkson University in Potsdam by a complete stranger.
Her killer, 23-year-old Brian McCarthy, was quickly identified and pled guilty. He was sentenced to 23 years to life and has been eligible for parole since 2009.
New York State law allows a parole hearing every two years or sooner. Katy’s family has appeared every two years to give a victim impact statement, recalling the horrific facts of the crime prior to McCarthy’s hearing.
They are part of a group of families pushing to extend the time allowed between each hearing—in their words, their reprieve—from two years to five years.
But while Katy’s family says her killer hasn’t changed and should not be granted parole, other victims’ families feel offenders should be given as many chances as possible to show they have changed and reenter society.
Katy Hawelka’s family spoke to 13 Investigates at her mother Terry Taber’s home in Syracuse. Four siblings—Betsy, Katy, Carey and Joe—grew up there.
Three siblings are left fighting through what can be an eight-month parole hearing process every two years.
In the 120-page transcript of McCarthy’s parole hearing this year, Katy’s killer relitigates the facts of the attack.
“After his first parole hearing, we got a copy of the transcript. He didn’t know my sister’s name. He’d been in prison and didn’t even know who he murdered,” said Carey Patton, Katy’s sister.
The Republican-authored Senate bill they support applies to offenders convicted of first-degree, second-degree or aggravated murder. It’s called Lorraine’s Law, named for Lorraine Miranda, who was murdered by her fiancé in 1998. State Senator Jim Tedisco (R – Glenville) is a co-sponsor of the bill that gives parole commissioners more discretion to push hearings out for up to five years.
“Right now, it seems we have a legislature which is more concerned, supermajorities in the senate and the assembly, and a governor from the same affiliation, we’re more concerned about the individuals who commit these crimes,” Tedisco said.
He’s also authored a bill called Christopher and Deanna’s Law, to ensure parole commissioners responsible for deciding whether a convict is released view victim impact statements given as part of the parole hearing process.
Tedisco believes there can be meaningful bipartisan parole reform, but said some reform comes at the expense of victims’ families.
“What are you doing for the victims at the state level to help them work through this process? We’re not doing very much for them to ease their pain and have a consideration for them. So, yes, we have to have compassion for those who are incarcerated. But it can’t come above and beyond innocent honest law-abiding citizens, the victims themselves,” he said.
Lorraine’s Law was voted down by Democrats in committee this past legislative session.
“I don’t understand why the legislature in Albany keeps fighting it,” said Terry Taber, Katy Hawelka’s mother.
The answer could lie in the movement for parole justice. It has the support of other crime victims and their families, including the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.
Gordon Davis is a parole justice advocate.
“Is there such a thing as a person can change? We say yes, a person can change. I’m a prime example of that,” Davis said.
He served decades in prison on a murder charge—in his words, a heinous crime. But he spent that time pursuing higher education degrees and bettering himself. He made parole on his first attempt in 2020.
In Albany, he now works with at-risk youth.
“I work on reducing gun violence in our community. I work with the kids who are likely to shoot someone or have a gun on them and get shot,” Davis explained.
He’s spoken to legislators and shared his insight on policy, fighting to give others the chance at freedom, too.
“I tell them my story, I tell them how I was a victim of traumas and different things that caused me to be in that situation I was in,” he said.
Davis explained many people are locked up young, sitting in prison no matter how much they have changed—many of them, Black and Brown people.
An analysis by the Times Union of thousands of parole decisions in recent years shows the parole board granted release to 41% of white people, compared to 34% of Black people and 33% of Hispanic people.
Davis acknowledged the pain Katy’s family endures.
He believes any law allowing the parole board to limit hearings would limit the people who are truly changing themselves in prison and undo necessary progress that allows them to return home and work to change their communities.
“We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have psychiatrists on the parole board now. So, it’s like, we’re going to look at the whole picture,” he said. “But now y’all say y’all want to redo all this again and make it a harder chance for a person to go before the parole board.”
He explained that the two years between hearings can seem like a lifetime to those who are working to better themselves and are denied parole.
“I need the people that know what they’re doing to help me doing out here do what I do, because it’s more of us that are stuck inside who has the same abilities and criterias to actually change these communities from which they destroyed,” Davis said.
Data also show older adults re-offend at a lower rate than younger released offenders.
But all of this is little consolation to Katy Hawelka’s family.
“There’s a lot of conversation about reform. Brian McCarthy has never been reformed,” said her sister, Betsy McInerney.
13 Investigates reached out to Democrats on the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee for their perspective. A spokesperson for the chair, Senator Julia Salazar (D – Bushwick), said she did not have the capacity to respond and directed 13 Investigates to advocates for parole justice.
13 Investigates reached out to the parole board. A spokesperson said the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision doesn’t comment on pending or proposed legislation.
McCarthy is scheduled to plead his case for parole again in April of 2025. The family gets started on their statements several months before. They have just 14 months before the process starts over again.