Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rasberry Williams Could be Free from Life Sentence in Prison by: Paul Gozzo

Rasberry Williams who is serving a life sentence for a 1974 murder may be released from prison after 38 years incarcerated. The only person standing in his way is Iowa's Governor Terry Branstad.

Well, sort of.

Apparently Rasberry Williams has been a model inmate over the last 38 years by staying out of trouble, educating himself, and mentoring younger inmates. Recently the parole board acknowledged all of Williams' efforts to rehabilitate himself as they voted 4-0 in favor of allowing Williams to walk free.

Concerned for his own political career, Governor Terry Branstad has a lot to lose and very little to gain if he approves of Rasberry Williams' release and then Mr. Williams does something wrong. After all, Branstad has enjoyed 18 years as the Governor of Iowa spread out over 3 decades. So, Branstad has requested a public hearing in Waterloo to allow the people to sound off on the parole board's recommendation as the Governor must make a decision by May 4th.

Jeremy Haile, who works for the Sentencing Project and advocates for shorter prison sentences, agrees with me (Paul Gozzo) that it is rare for a governor to free someone convicted of murder because of the obvious political risks involved. Haile and I also agree that the hearing is a smart move because strong public support for Williams would help justify the Governor's decision to release him as well as hedge any future possibility if Williams does get into trouble.

Oh and one more extraordinary fact to go with this story, along with the possibility of a person in prison for a life sentence possibly being released after 38 years in jail and a governor ordering a public hearing, is the simple fact that Williams, while incarcerated, saved two guards lives when a young inmate took them hostage way back in 1979. In fact the man, George Goff, who planned to kill those guards wrote a letter to Williams' parole board stating, "If it had not been for Rasberry Williams that day there would have been two dead guards and I would be doing a life sentence".

This is Rasberry Williams third attempt in front of a the Governor of Iowa. Previously, Gov. Tom Vislak denied Williams' commutation bid in 2006 with concerns that Williams had been gambling in prison, which Rasberry denied. Then gov. Chet Culver reviewed Williams' commutation file in his final days in office in 2011 but ultimately did not act.

I, Paul Gozzo, would like to see Rasberry Williams get the opporunity to become a model citizen just like he was a model inmate and for this sotry to have a happy ending. What do you think of Rasberry Williams and Governor Terry Branstad's opporunity to end Williams prison sentence?

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