Please read this article about CT’s new parole rules – thank you!

October 7, 2015

Plainville Cop-Killer Case Prompts New State Parole Rules
State: Revised parole rules should help ensure victims notified about parole hearings

Hartford Courant

Oct. 7, 2015

PLAINVILLE — State officials say that new policies and staffing should help ensure that crime victims or their relatives learn about parole hearings to avoid the sort of shock relatives of slain police Officer Robert Holcomb suffered when Holcomb’s killer won parole at a hearing the victim’s family knew nothing about.

After that initial parole hearing in January, public outrage resulted in a second hearing in March at which Holcomb’s family was able to speak.

The Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole then voted March 25 to rescind parole to Gerald “Gary” Castonguay, who was convicted in the 1977 murder of Holcomb, a Plainville police officer. Holcomb was fatally wounded responding to a burglary in progress. Holcomb was 28, a married father of a 3-year-old son.

After the March 25 vote, Holcomb’s relatives, police, prosecutors and legislators pushed to find out why family members were not notified before the Jan. 9 parole hearing.

Changes made in the last six months should help guarantee proper notification of victims or their relatives, Linda Cimino, director of the state Office of Victim Services, said Tuesday.

Victim services provides support and information, including advance notification of forthcoming court actions, to victims of violent crime and their families.

The office is supposed to have two workers assigned to parole and pardons, but only one was working at the time of the Holcomb parole hearing, Cimino said. The department now has two staffers for that purpose.

Cimino said the one worker at the time “did due diligence” in trying to reach Holcomb’s family, but was unsuccessful. Increased staffing and better access to state correction department data will make it easier to find and notify people about impending hearings, she said.

Maria Weinberger, Holcomb’s niece who has spoken on behalf of the family, said that they are “very pleased” with the changes made by state officials.

Castonguay has the right to request another parole hearing in five years, “so we need to be extra vigilant,” Weinberger said. Several of Holcomb’s relatives have signed up to be notified about future hearings. As part of the new policy, the head of the police department will be notified.

“We don’t want to be surprised again,” Weinberger said. “And it’s not just our family. There may have been other families in that same situation of not being notified in the past.”

The changes were initiated during the last legislative session as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Second Chance Society program, which primarily focused on changing the treatment of nonviolent offenders.

State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, who represents Plainville in the 31st Senate District, said the new rules will also give the parole board and victim services better access to court testimony, transcripts and other court and corrections information about inmate applicants.

“We were very disappointed in January to learn that the Holcomb family was not notified,” Plainville Town Manager Robert Lee said Monday. “There’s been changes since. These may be less than some wanted. Still, a big negative has resulted in something positive.”

Castonguay was first convicted in 1980 in Holcomb’s murder. That sentence was dismissed on technicalities. Castonguay was convicted in 1989 of capital felony and sentenced to life in prison. He had parole hearings in 2002 and 2011, and Holcomb family members were notified in advance of those hearings.

Castonguay, who is now 71, appealed the sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing unsuccessfully that because state law was changed in 1981 to define life imprisonment as 60 years, his 1989 conviction should make him eligible for release in 2049.

Holcomb has not been forgotten in Plainville, which named the street in front of the high school in his honor. Every November, the police department holds a ceremony at his grave site.

“Officers gather graveside, speak, pass a cup of coffee around that they share, then they pour it onto his grave,” Holcomb son, Mac Holcomb, said in March.

The parole board received nearly 400 letters and emails opposing Castonguay’s release.

Representatives from a dozen Connecticut police departments including six police chiefs attended the March hearing.