News10NBC Investigates: How was a parolee charged with murder out of custody in the first place?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – When a parolee was charged with murder last week, the question became: how he was out of custody in the first place?

When we started to investigate the case, we learned that a week prior to the murder, the parolee was arrested for cutting off his GPS ankle monitor. But instead of going to jail for that violation he was released with another monitor.    

On November 3rd, Rochester police say a parolee, named Lequan Hill, killed a neighbor who was trying to stop an argument. Police say Hill stabbed Antoine Parris to death. In September, Hill was paroled on a robbery sentence.

On October 25th, he was arrested for cutting off his ankle bracelet. At a hearing the next day, New York State Parole considered Hill an absconder and asked that Hill be detained because he fit the legal criteria of an individual who posed a “substantial risk of willfully failing to appearat his next hearing.

However, Monroe County Court Judge Doug Randall released Hill. Court documents show Judge Randall checked the box that said Hill “did not present a substantial risk” not to appear at a hearing. A week later, Hill was arrested for murder.

Brean: “If this situation had happened prior to Less is More, would the situation be different now?”

Gina Lopez, NYS Parole Officer: “Yes.”

Gina Lopez is a parole officer and represents the officers in their union.

Prior to Less is More, New York jailed more parolees than any other state. After Less is More was passed, close to 80 percent of parolees jailed were released.

Less is More started on March 1st, 2022.

Brean: “I just want to be clear on something here. Prior to March 1st of 2020, when Less is More started, if somebody had a technical violation of their parole, like they cut off their ankle bracelet, they would have been held in custody until their final hearing.”

Gina Lopez, NYS Parole Officer: “Yes.”

Brean: “They would not have had the ability to be released after that first hearing.”

Lopez: “Correct. They would not have had the ability to be released. They would have gone straight to their preliminary hearing which would have been held within 15 days and their final hearing had to be held within 90 days.”

Prior to March 1st, judges weren’t even involved in parole violations. The cases were heard by officials from the state Department of Corrections.

The state Office of Court Administration issued a statement on behalf of Judge Randall saying Less is More made cutting off an ankle monitor a technical violation.

“Therefore Judge Randall was only allowed to consider if this parole violator is a flight risk, or if he will return to court. He is not allowed to consider if the violator presents a danger to the community.”

According to the RPD, 12 people arrested for murders over the past 12 months were parolees.

KATAL, a group that advocated for Less is More, says cutting off a bracelet was always a technical violation. It says the reform incentivizes parolees for following the rules and it reduces their time on parole.

KATAL says 13,000 people have been discharged from parole early, therefore reducing the case load for parole officers.