Victim’s family details toll of parole process, pushes for change

Family details push to change parole law

A group of victims families is behind a movement in Albany to decrease the number of parole hearings for people convicted of some of the worst offenses.

A group of victims’ families is behind a push in Albany to decrease the number of parole hearings for people convicted of some of the worst offenses.

13Investigates’ Stella Porter is digging into the New York State law these families are trying to pass. First, sitting down with one of the families to hear their story.

Katy Hawelka was attacked and killed 37 years ago on her college campus.

When her killer was sentenced the following year, Hawelka’s family thought they could one day maybe find some sense of peace. Instead, decades later, they said, they are living their own life sentence.

“You may have someone who’s admitted guilt in our case and is committed to an institution but then it never ends. It’s never going to end for us,” said her older sister, Betsy McInerney.  

Born Katherine Hawelka, Katy was the second-born of four Hawelka children. She never failed to include her younger sister, Carey Patton, who was close in age. 

“She was one of my best friends in high school. And she was the peacemaker. Growing up, you know, four kids in the house and we would be fighting and she would always be the one to be like, let’s get along, let’s, so she was very special,” Patton said.

McInerney, Patton, younger brother Joe Hawelka and Katy’s mother, Terry Taber, showed 13 Investigates their treasured memories of her at their family home in Syracuse. 

McInerney said Katy was bubbly, happy and planning for the future. 

“Very studious, serious about her studies, was looking forward to Clarkson University, pursuing an engineering degree,” she said.

Katy Hawelka had just arrived for her sophomore year at Clarkson, in Potsdam. It was 1986, Labor Day weekend.

She was coming home from a night out with friends, making the walk across campus back to her apartment. Behind the university’s indoor hockey arena, she was randomly attacked. Hawelka was brutally raped and beaten unconscious. She was unrecognizable to her family after the attack. She was rushed to the hospital. Days later, she died from her injuries.

Authorities quickly identified a suspect, 23-year-old Potsdam resident Brian McCarthy. He was near the scene and eventually confessed.

McCarthy pled guilty in 1987. He was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison.

“When he was sentenced, I was 16 at the time, and at that point, 23 years was more than a lifetime to me,” Joe Hawelka said.

The years ticked by. Katy’s siblings went on to have families of their own. Then, in 2009, McCarthy was eligible for parole—and so began what the family said is a recurring nightmare.

Every two years, Katy’s family makes their case to keep him in prison with a victim impact statement. It’s a time period dictated by New York State law.

“In December, we get through the holidays, and it’s like, okay, in January, we have to start thinking about this again,” Patton said.

After the family’s statements, McCarthy appears before the parole board. He’s questioned by three parole commissioners. Then, commissioners make a decision. The family can request a transcript of his hearing.

Reading the transcript is the culmination of about an eight-month process.

“The victim impact, the hearing itself, it’s not an easy thing to do. You have to mentally prepare yourself for that,” Joe Hawelka said.

The family said there’s little reprieve.

“It brings everything back to the day it happened, and getting that call at five in the morning and rushing up to Potsdam. And finding my daughter, her father didn’t recognize her, had been beaten so badly. And it starts all over again,” Taber said.

They’re pushing to pass this senate bill in Albany, called Lorraine’s Law. The law is named for Lorraine Miranda, who was murdered by her fiancé in 1988.

It would allow the parole board to decide to wait five years between hearing a convicted killer’s case for parole, instead of the maximum two years allowed now. It was voted down in committee this year, a move celebrated by parole justice advocates.

Monday starting Live at 4, 13 Investigates the push to prevent the law from passing by those who say it could be weaponized to undo necessary progress made against mass incarceration and racial bias in the justice system– sitting down with one parole justice advocate in Albany.

More on Katy Hawelka’s family’s advocacy can be found here and on their petition website.