Two years after the governor commuted their sentences, the state parole board agreed to release two women serving life in prison for killing their abusive husbands.
The action was long overdue, a lawyer for one of the women said Tuesday.
Shirley Lute, 76, has been imprisoned since 1981, when she was convicted of aiding her son in killing her husband, Melvin, whom she claims physically tortured and mentally tormented her. Lynda Branch, 54, was convicted of shooting her husband, Raymond, in 1986; she contends she got control of the gun only after her husband threatened to shoot her and her daughter.
Both women were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years, but Gov. Bob Holden commuted their terms in late 2004, just before he left office, making them immediately eligible for parole.
However, the Board of Probation and Parole refused to grant them release, saying that “would depreciate the seriousness” of their crimes.
The Supreme Court ordered the board to reconsider, and the panel acted Monday.
Mary Beck, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said Tuesday that she was “ecstatic” that her client, Branch, will soon be free.
“It’s really long overdue. We’re really grateful that we got this to happen today,” she said. “But it really should’ve happened a long time ago. We’ve been working on this for nine years.”
Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth estimated it could take three to five days to complete paperwork to release them, but Beck said she expects it could be a week or two.
Both women’s cases were handled by the Missouri Battered Women’s Clemency Coalition, which includes professors and students at the state’s four law schools.
Beck estimated that six other women in similar situations are still imprisoned in Missouri seeking clemency.
Hauswirth said he could not disclose whether the women must follow any special conditions while on parole. All parolees are expected to follow a standard set of rules, including reporting to a parole officer and not using illegal drugs or owning weapons.