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Reality Check: Violent criminals released early, putting your family in danger

(IMG: WPMI) Reality Check: Violent criminals released early, putting your family in danger

Three people, including a 7-year-old boy, were brutally murdered this summer in Guntersville after the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles let a career criminal back on the street. The shocking crimes prompted the governor to order the Board to temporarily stop early releases and come up with a plan to fix the broken system. NBC 15's Andrea Ramey investigates what's being done to keep murderers locked up.

Patrick Johnson was supposed to be behind bars when, investigators say, he shot and killed a man on Raven Drive last month. He'd been sentenced to ten years in prison but only served a few months. The 23-year-old is just one example of our catch and release system in Alabama.

Dozens of Mobile County criminals, many of them murderers and rapists, could be released from prison early. Even though they only served a fraction of their sentence, they're already up for parole.

"It's is getting ridiculous, just plain ridiculous," said Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich.

Jamie Letson is on the list. She avoided arrest for decades, but was eventually convicted in 2010, for the 1980 murder of USA student Katherine Foster. Jurors sentenced her to life in prison, but now she's up for parole. So is Geretha Lewis, who stuffed her baby in a trash bag and threw her away like garbage in 2007.

"Literally over 100 examples of violent offenders less than, in most cases, served one tenth of their sentence and their eligible for parole," said Rich.

Jimmy Spencer was supposed to be serving a life sentence, but six months after he was paroled, investigators say he savagely murdered two women and a 7-year-old little boy in Guntersville. He'd even been arrested for drug crimes and resisting arrest prior to the murders but that still wasn't enough to send him back to prison.

"I mean that's inexcusable. We should never have that," said Sen. Cam Ward (R) Alabaster. "How did we get to this point?"

Disturbed by what's happening, lawmakers plan to take action and reign in the discretion the pardons and paroles board has this upcoming legislative session.

"I think the parole board is abusing their discretion," said Ward.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles' rules state violent offenders are supposed to serve 15 years or 85% of the sentence, whichever is less, before even being considered for parole.

"That's been their own guiding principles, but they've ignored those," said Ward.

Ward says if he gets his way, the board won't be able to ignore those rules anymore, because the law will spell out how long murderers must stay behind bars.

"You've got to serve a certain amount of time before you're released," said Ward.

Ward doesn't want to commit to a time period that will be in his bill until he talks with more district attorneys and sheriff's across the state for input.

The parole board declined our request for an interview and says it is in the process of preparing a corrective action plan to for the governor.

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