District Attorney: Justice system ‘off the rail’
Published 7:46 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Vernon Parish District Attorney Terry Lambright is slamming decision makers at the executive level of the state’s justice system after a Leesville man was granted parole this month despite serving only a fraction of the 150-year sentence handed down for his role in the gruesome murder of a local grocery store manager.
Michael Hood appeared before the state parole board on April 13 and was subsequently granted release by board members upon a stay in a transition program for a period of three months to 1 year, and then moving out of the state.
“The release of this defendant is yet another example of a policy at the executive level of state government gone completely off the rail,” Lambright said in a letter provided to the American Press.
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Hood was convicted in 2003 for the 2001 kidnapping and killing of Stephen Van Rogers, the manager of the Stanley “Super D” Grocery Store in Leesville.
Rogers’ body was found inside the store the morning after his shift the night before. Police reports said he had been bound by duct tape and stabbed more than 30 times in the head and back. Authorities said the motive for the killing had been robbery.
Authorities said the stabbing had been so vicious the blade of the knife used had broken off in Rogers’ head, an occurrence that was later “bragged about” by Hood and his accomplice, according to Lambright.
Hood was sentenced by Judge John C. Ford to serve 80 years for armed robbery, 40 years for manslaughter, and 30 years for second-degree kidnapping. The sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, making a combined 150 years that Hood was expected to serve behind prison bars.
The sentence was part of a plea agreement with the state, and as such Hood agreed to waive all state and federal appeals, post-conviction and double jeopardy claims. In return, the state agreed to drop first-degree capital murder charges.
Upon learning of the parole board’s decision, Lambright expressed his frustration with what he considered repeated releases of violent offenders by the state with little regard to public safety.
“I have been District Attorney of Vernon Parish for 19 months and during this period of time numerous people have been released on parole, been granted clemency or had their sentence commuted who have killed or been involved in killing people in Vernon Parish. Our current state policy appears to simply seek to reduce the number of inmates in our state prisons with little regard for the safety of the public or the concerns and pain of victims. There is no justice for victims or society when a defendant is released on parole after serving only approximately 20 years of a 150-year sentence. Something is terribly wrong with the policies at the executive level and the Parole Board of this state when defendants are repeatedly released from prison after violent offenses, including the taking of another person’s life,” Lambright wrote.
In March, the state parole board granted the early release of Anthony Knox, who had served 24 years of a 40-year sentence for shooting his estranged wife in the parking lot of Walmart in Leesville. At his parole hearing, Knox continued to deny he had killed his wife despite the crime having been captured on the store’s surveillance cameras. Knox also disagreed with his diagnosis of schizophrenia, however the board voted unanimously to allow his release to the care of his sister out of state.
Lambright had objected to both Knox and Hood’s releases, and had submitted his objections to the parole board ahead of each hearing.
“I am very troubled and at a loss for a reasonable rationale to continue to release violent offenders in the state of Louisiana,” Lambright said.