Although some days some of us may find it unfortunate, it isn’t legal to kill someone simply because he’s an SOB.
If it were, chances are 48-year-old Carol Graves wouldn’t have spent a day in jail.
Graves has served 11 years behind bars so far for the 1996 slaying of her 71-year-old father who, according to published reports, was a physically and verbally abusive bully.
With accrued “good time” Graves had three years left to serve of her original 17-year sentence. This week Gov. John Baldacci’s office announced that he plans to commute Graves’ sentence by 18 months, meaning she will be released in March 2010 instead of September 2011.
Commutations, or reductions of prison sentences, by Maine governors are extremely rare, and they should be. Certainly crime and punishment is usually best left to prosecutors and the judicial branch of our government.
But the opportunity the governor has to commute or pardon exists for a reason, and the case of Carol Graves is the perfect example why. Hers was the first commutation by Baldacci since he took office. It was a wise and judicious decision.
In 1996, Graves was best known by her nickname “Sunshine” because of her bright and warm personality. Three days a week she worked eight- to 10-hour shifts at a Franklin boarding home, going above and beyond her duties to bring a sense of dignity to the elderly women she cared for.
She used her own money to purchase a robe for a patient who was embarrassed she didn’t have one like the other patients. She painted the women’s fingernails twice a week.
After her shift she would travel to her father’s Ellsworth home to clean for him, cook his supper and give him his medication. The same father, who even prosecutors agree physically and emotionally abused her, her mother and at least some of her three sisters. The same father who, officials say, hollered at her and shamed her as she continued to care for him as he aged and his health failed.
Then she would drive to her own home in Hancock to care for her boyfriend and teenage daughter.
“Her father was described to us as a miserable person, and she was just worn down. She was doing a lot and taking care of him and he just treated her terribly, and I think she snapped,” Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said this week.
There were some reports that when she purchased a gun, Graves actually intended to kill herself. Instead, one day in May, as she helped her father prepare to move out of his mobile home, she shot him three times in the head.
Courtroom testimony indicated that her father had said something offensive to her and may have been waving a hunting knife around when she went to her purse, took out the small-caliber pistol and fired.
She also said to police that she had test-fired the pistol before heading to her father’s home that day.
“It definitely was a deliberate killing,” said Stokes. “It was not self-defense. She purchased the gun, she test-fired the gun, she took the gun to her father’s house and she shot him three times in the head. There certainly was a level of premeditation there.”
Prosecutors opted to offer her a plea agreement, allowing her to plead guilty to manslaughter under the “adequate provocation” rule with a sentence of 17 years. Had she been convicted of murder she would have had to serve a minimum of 25 years.
Adequate provocation may be better known to some as the “heat of passion” defense in which someone commits a homicide in the fit of extraordinary rage or fear because of a “provoked” circumstance.
When asked by the Governor’s Office whether they would object to the commutation of Graves’ sentence, the officials at the Attorney General’s Office said, “Not at all.”
“I think if anyone deserves that sort of action, it would be Carol Graves,” Stokes said.
Last March a Sabattus man was sentenced to 12 years in prison with all but five years suspended for shooting his father to death during his father’s 65th birthday party. Scott Poirier and other family members claimed that the father had sexually abused many of them and “pimped out” his own daughter.
On the night of the killing, Poirier was drunk on liquor and wine and was haunted by memories of the abuse. As the rest of the family sat around his father’s kitchen table celebrating, Poirier stood outside the home and fired one shot from his rifle that struck his father in the neck.
The state charged Poirier with murder but a jury convicted him on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
“Granted, these cases are tough when the perpetrator has suffered such abuse, but we don’t live in a state of vigilante justice and I don’t think we want to,” said Stokes.
Graves’ case certainly is similar to Poirier’s, but her sentence was markedly more severe.
By all accounts Graves has been a good inmate for the past 11 years, participating in education and counseling programs.
It was right for the governor’s board on executive clemency to have recommended the commutation to the governor, right of the governor to approve it and right of the Attorney General’s Office to offer up no objection.