Two leading Republicans have called for state Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy to appear before legislative committees to explain his landmark decision to parole a murderer sentenced for the shooting of a police officer.
"There's grave concern. It warrants our attention and we want some explanation," Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said Friday. Koch, the Senate majority leader, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, informed Gov. Mark Dayton by letter that they are requesting a briefing from Roy as soon as hearing dates can be scheduled.
Roy's decision to parole Tim Eling, 62, convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Oakdale police officer Richard Walton in 1982, was first reported Thursday by the Star Tribune after the newspaper made an inquiry to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Roy said this week he arrived at the decision because of Eling's good behavior for the past 15 years and his effective work as a senior elder mentoring young offenders. Eling will not be freed from the Stillwater Correctional Facility for about four more years because he must complete a companion sentence for his 1996 conviction for smuggling drugs into prison.
The newspaper also reported that in the past nine months Roy had paroled three murderers sentenced to life, the most notable being 1980s gang leader John Scruggs. Scruggs served 25 years and Roy followed through on accepting the recommended release date set by his predecessor, Commissioner Joan Fabian, who was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Corrections spokesman John Schadl said Friday that Roy, who has a long career in community corrections, welcomed the opportunity to explain his decision and philosophy of helping prisoners turn their lives around.
Dayton's press secretary, Katharine Tinucci, said in a statement: "The governor personally believes that anyone who kills a police officer should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. But that was not the law when Mr. Eling was sentenced. And the Legislature, in its wisdom, left the decision of granting parole to the commissioner, who is a career professional, not a politician."
When Eling was sentenced in 1982, a prisoner who was sentenced to life was actually eligible for parole after serving 17 years. In 1993, the lawmakers passed a reform measure that required life imprisonment without parole for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.
Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745