The March 4 edition of the Lima News reported the story of Dameon Wesley, accused of going on a February 24 shooting spree in Dayton during which 13-year-old Briona Rodgers died. Rodger’s teenage cousin, Alonta Culpepper, survived the attack.
Wesley, age 39, allegedly murdered his victims in the home of his ex-girlfriend, Dawan Culpepper, who discovered her niece and daughter amidst the carnage. Wesley was found hiding behind her door with a revolver. Unfortunately, his sordid history didn’t start here.
In April, 1994, Wesley was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for killing his 19-year-old roommate, Marvin Williams Jr. The diligent efforts of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office and Gwendolyn Williams, the victim’s mother, kept Wesley in prison for the next 18 years.
In 2010, the Ohio Parole Board denied Wesley’s release, deeming him an “undue risk to public safety.” Then in 2011, prison officials initiated a program to assist inmates in preparing for their release hearings. Simultaneously, Wesley’s family selected an attorney to help him develop a parole plan. Despite continued opposition from Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. and Williams, the same parole board ruled in June 2012 that Wesley was miraculously transformed and should be paroled! Wesley, the former “undue risk,” was then freed from prison on Sept. 4, 2012.
Four months later on Jan. 14, Dawan Culpepper contacted Dayton police and lodged a complaint of kidnapping, rape and domestic violence against Wesley. Then on Feb. 24, Wesley was reportedly involved in the shooting rampage. Since then, the Ohio Parole Board has indicated it is “monitoring the situation,” yet denies having prior knowledge of Culpepper’s Jan. 14 assault allegation.
Many might ask what measures were taken by Wesley’s parole officer after the Jan. 14 complaint, or question why he was ever released after his 1994 conviction or wonder how educated people could conclude that such a man was no longer the “undue risk” he was a scant two years before?
Parole boards have long been less than scientific in determining who should be released from prison, often choosing those who don’t attract media or community attention. In other instances, like Wesley’s, they disregard prosecutor or victim opposition. Sometimes there are still other factors at work.
Downward fiscal conditions have increasingly led parole boards to minimize the risk of releasing dangerous offenders to the community. Budget issues and rising prisoner medical costs have left states with less money to deal with crime. Amongst states with historically high prison populations, Ohio long ago showed its disdain for new prison construction, concentrating instead on reducing its prison population. The Ohio Parole Board has worked hard to this end.
Ohio solidified this notion in 1996 by implementing Senate Bill 2. This law abolished parole and indefinite sentences in favor of less-stringent post-release control and shorter definite prison sentences. Low-level, non-violent offenders would be sentenced to community-based programs, while prison beds would be reserved for truly violent criminals.
Unfortunately, “friends of parolees” complained that non-parolees (those committing felonies after 7-1-96) unfairly benefitted from a dual system of justice. Ultimately, all inmates benefitted after parole authorities developed a sanction process that allowed a maximum nine month prison sentence for a supervision infraction. Parole officials had found an ingenious way to skirt the law and keep dangerous criminals locked up for less time.
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction projects a $60 million deficit over the next biennium, which may require the closing of one or more of our institututions. In 2010, Ohio spent $1.3 billion to operate its prisons and the cost to incarcerate an inmate was approximately $26,000. Ohio’s prisons house nearly 50,000 inmates, requiring thousands of correctional staff. To some, these facts make releasing dangerous criminals a no-brainer.
In 2011, Ohio Governor Kasich attempted to address these issues through selling/ leasing/consolidating a handful of Ohio’s prisons, yet this does not negate the responsibility of Ohio’s prison officials to provide offenders with opportunities for rehabilitation, while maintaining the safety of the community.
Solving Ohio’s budget woes cannot be achieved by emptying Ohio’s prisons of dangerous offenders like Dameon Wesley. How many other “undue risks to public safety” inhabit communities across Ohio? Only the Ohio Parole Board knows the answer.
Mark Figley is a resident of Elida and a guest columnist of The Lima News.