Originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 62, printed August 14. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
Jermaine Doss has a parole hearing scheduled for Aug. 25, his first since he was sent to prison back in 2000 for a crime he did not commit. The irony is that, after 20 years of fighting his conviction in the courts, it may finally be another judicial injustice that opens his cell door to freedom.
Jermaine is one of more than 300 so-called “Fishback” prisoners – those sentenced after 1995, when Virginia abolished parole, but before 2000, when jurors were finally told it had been abolished.
During those five years, jurors would often recommend long sentences on the assumption that defendants would only serve part of the time. That assumption was wrong.
Finally, in 2000, the Virginia Supreme Court decided in the case of Richard David Fishback that it “simply defies reason” not to tell jurors about the abolishment of parole, and ruled that jurors had to be told of the change.
But nothing was done about the hundreds of defendants who had received the long sentences – until last January, when the 2020 General Assembly passed a bill allowing Fishback prisoners to be considered for parole.
In Jermaine’s case, he was charged with murder-for-hire, but convicted of murder and sentenced to life-plus-38 years.
The man who actually committed the murder got 17 years, plus a few more for related charges.
There’s a good chance the parole board might decide to let Jermaine return to his family in Norfolk. They know he didn’t kill anyone. He’s already served 20 years. He hasn’t broken a single prison rule in the last 14. He has a loving, supportive family waiting to take him in. He’s even got the promise of a job. He’s a Fishback prisoner. And the governor has said he wants to release as many prisoners as possible because of the dangers posed by COVID-19.
What the board will look at is Jermaine’s record in prison and the situation waiting for him on the outside, to determine if he’s a good prospect for release. They won’t be re-examining his case to decide if he’s actually innocent.
They won’t consider that the only evidence against him was the testimony of the self-admitted killer, who since Jermaine’s trial has repeatedly said he only testified against him because prosecutors had told him that otherwise he would face the death penalty.
They won’t hear that the detective who handled the cases of both the killer and Jermaine was the notorious Robert Glenn Ford, now serving 12-and-a-half years for extortion and then lying about it to the FBI. They won’t hear how the judge at Jermaine’s trial instructed the jury that murder is a “lesser-included offense” to murder-for-hire, but that murder isn’t actually an included offense.
And they won’t hear about how Jermaine’s family submitted a request for a governor’s pardon more than six years ago, but have never received one word in response.
No, the Parole Board won’t hear anything about the injustice in Jermaine’s case that his family has been publicizing for the past 20 years. All they will hear is that Jermaine is a perfect candidate for early release.
And all we can do is hope they do the right thing and finally send Jermaine Doss home.