Cops crusade against parole for cop killer

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 12, 2012 - 10:54 PM

Ronald Schneider, who killed an officer in 1985, is up for a parole hearing next week. Police want to make sure he stays behind bars.

John Thomas Scanion

Caught off guard when a man convicted of killing a police officer was paroled last fall, a group of law enforcement officials and politicians have coordinated an effort against parole for another cop killer before his parole hearing next week.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and the heads of the state's sheriff and police chief associations, led an e-mail and letter-writing campaign to the Department of Corrections to deny parole for Ronald Schneider, who killed Robbinsdale officer John Scanlon in 1985.

For Stanek, making sure Schneider spends the rest of his life in prison has become personal. Scanlon's funeral was the first police officer funeral Stanek ever attended. With Schneider, now 70, up for parole on Monday, Stanek made a point to share his thoughts with state Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy this week.

Stanek said law enforcement was caught by surprise when Roy granted parole to Tim Eling, who killed an off-duty officer in 1982. Roy's decision sparked controversy among legislators and police officials.

This is Schneider's second parole hearing. Only a handful of people convicted of killing an officer remain eligible for parole because a 1993 state law change requires life without parole for such an offense.

"Denying the parole request sends a clear message that the killing of police officers -- our first line of defense and protectors of our society -- is both unacceptable and unforgivable," Stanek wrote in a letter to the Department of Corrections. "He remains a threat to society, having shown no remorse for his actions, and it would be a mistake to grant his release."

Monday's hearing, which is closed, will most likely consist of Roy, two of his deputies, the warden from Stillwater prison and several professionals with knowledge of Schneider's case. Several of Schneider's relatives will also speak. Schneider is expected to plead his own case.

This hearing was ordered by the corrections commissioner who handled Schneider's hearing 10 years ago.

"The commissioner's primary concern when he reviews any case is public safety," said John Schadl, spokesman for the Department of Corrections. "It is incumbent upon the subject of the hearing to make a case that they are worthy of parole."

Schneider was convicted of killing Scanlon, 35, during robbery of a dentist's office. He took $20 and some gold. Scanlon was sitting in his squad car when Schneider shot him twice. Schneider, then 43, claimed he was innocent because of mental illness.

Craig Cascarano, who as a public defender at the time represented Schneider, said he remembers the case. He talked to jurors later who said they believed Schneider had a significant mental illness, but not enough to acquit him of murder.

"I've represented a lot of murderers in my 37 years of law practice, and this guy was like Mr. Peabody," he said. "He was a docile man with no criminal record who lived with his mother. It was a tragedy, but he wasn't there to kill somebody."

When Schneider was sentenced to life, state law required he serve at least 17 years before being eligible for parole.

"Far be it from me to say if he should be paroled," said Cascarano. "If the psychiatrists do extensive exams on him and say he's good, he would be a good bet to be a good citizen."

Roy couldn't be reached for comment. The Star Tribune interviewed him last year when he granted parole to Eling, 62, convicted in 1982 of killing off-duty Oakdale police officer Richard Walton during a hospital pharmacy robbery in St. Paul. Eling must still serve roughly four more years to complete a separate 1996 sentence for drug smuggling while imprisoned.

In a November Star Tribune story about Eling's parole, Roy issued a statement saying "the focus should not be on the personalities involved. It should be on the law, the policy and the process: whether the law was followed, the voices of the victim's families were heard and whether the decision took public safety into account."

When Robbinsdale Police Chief Steven Smith, Stanek and others learned Schneider was up for parole, they sought support from law enforcement agencies and associations to contact the Department of Corrections and urge that parole be denied. Smith is pleased with the response.

Scott Crandall, Scanlon's nephew and fire chief of the West Metro Fire-Rescue District that serves Crystal and New Hope, said he is very much in tune with the effort to make sure parole is denied.

Monday's hearing opens a wound that never heals, he said.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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