A House bill to be introduced by state Rep. Aaron Bernstine is designed to prevent Pennsylvania's parole board from prematurely releasing an inmate after his minimum sentence if that inmate was previously convicted of a violent offense while in prison.
The bill, to be called Markie's Law, comes as a result of the death of 9-year-old Markie Mason, who was brutally stabbed to death the night of July 8. Keith L. Burley Jr., 43, formerly of Edinburg, is charged with committing the crime after he was released from prison on parole from a homicide conviction. Burley also had been charged with stabbing an inmate in the neck in 2002 while he was incarcerated for the previous homicide. He had served only the minimum of his state prison sentence in that killing before he was freed on parole earlier this year.
Burley is accused of having assaulted the boy's mother in the parking lot of the New Castle fire station the night of July 8, then taking her car with her son and his 8-year-old brother to a house in Union Township. There he unsuccessfully sought a loaded gun, but used a knife to stab 9-year-old Mark multiple times, in the presence of his brother and two other youths who were in the house, according to court papers.
Burley was arrested in Youngstown the day after the murder and was returned to New Castle. He is in the Lawrence County jail without bond.
Bernstine's bill calls for postponing a violent inmate's parole for an additional 24 months after the inmate's minimum release date for each conviction of a violent offense while incarcerated. Bernstine, in a letter to all house members, is seeking cosponsorship of his bill. Additionally, his bill will postpone consideration of an inmate's being paroled for 12 additional months if the inmate should attempt to escape, smuggle contraband or retaliate or intimidate witnesses while incarcerated.
Bernstine explained that the intent of the measure is to help foster a safer environment in prison, because inmates might have a stronger incentive to behave. The bill also would seek to keep the most dangerous inmates from a premature release.
He explained in a phone conversation yesterday that Burley, as a result of his offenses in prison, was not imposed any additional penalties while serving his sentence.
He said he is eager to introduce the bill in Mason's memory, but also to make sure that another violent offender is not released without further consideration by the parole board.
"We need to make sure that doesn't happen again, and we want to keep criminals off our streets," the state representative said.
"I was dismayed to learn that the perpetrator of this heinous and senseless act was convicted of two separate assaults on other inmates while serving his original sentence," Bernstine commented about Burley in a letter to all of his fellow members of the state House of Representatives.
The parole board's determination of record in releasing Burley was that not only was he rehabilitated, he no longer posed a threat to the public at the end of his minimum sentence, the representative noted.
Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa has called a press conference for 11 a.m. Thursday at the courthouse to discuss Burley's release and further information he received from the state parole board. He said Wednesday morning that the dialogue will include what the board's idea is "of a fix to this problem."
Whether the parole board members will face consequences as a result of Burley's premature release are a matter for the governor to consider, Lamancusa said.
Burley had been out of prison on parole from a previous murder for just over three months when Mason was killed on July 8. Burley had been released from the State Correctional Institution at Fayette in Fayette County on March 28.
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole had given the 43-year-old a satisfactory review before releasing him. He had served only the minimum of a 20- to 40-year sentence for the 1999 robbery and killing of 36-year-old Randall Stewart in the housing projects at Halco Drive.
Despite Burley’s list of additional convictions for other past aggravated assault and gun offenses, the parole board said it decided to free him for what it cited as positive reasons.
According to the Notice of Board Decision, a document produced by the parole board, the panel had interviewed Burley and reviewed his file before granting his parole. The document cited reasons for his March 28 release to include his completion of prescribed institutional programs, his positive institutional behavior, a positive recommendation by the state Department of Corrections, a demonstrated motivation for success, and his acceptance of responsibility for the offenses he committed.
Lamancusa had said in July that he contacted the governor’s office about Burley’s release, demanding to know why Burley was released from state prison after having served only the minimum sentence of a previous homicide conviction, when he also leaves a trail of convictions of other violent crimes, some involving guns and assaults.
The state Department of Corrections last month announced its review of the cases of 34,000 people free on state parole, in the wake of killings by five ex-cons that claimed six lives in less than two months.
The review was to determine whether there were any shortcomings in each recent case and to identify whether there are any themes or policies that should be modified to make such events less likely.
The Corrections Department review noted that Burley had misconduct problems, including stabbing a fellow inmate, early in his prison stint, according to the report.
Based on the initial review of individuals on parole, the department has beefed up its supervision of 800 parolees. Other changes being instituted include adding a section on parolees to the Inmate Locator on the Department of Corrections website, to enable law enforcement and the public to know that an individual is under supervision by the state parole system, and adopting a violence-forecasting model to determine how much supervision a parolee requires.
But Bernstine, in introducing his bill, contended that those measures don't go far enough. His proposed legislation would bar the state from releasing inmates with misconduct problems.
In Burley’s case his sentence for having stabbed an inmate in the neck in 2002 ran concurrently with his murder sentence and did not add any time to his stint behind bars, according to the state report.