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Our state's parole board has recommended commuting the life sentence of convicted killer and robber Paul Stacy of Benton County.

Their recommendation now goes to Governor Asa Hutchinson. He will decide whether Stacy's record of good and helpful behavior in prison over the past 20 years and the remorse he expresses over the first-degree murder and robbery conviction in the bludgeoning of Gene Cook with a tire iron, are sufficient grounds to commute Stacy's 1994 sentence after more than 20 years behind bars.

In his written request for commutation submitted August 13, one news story said Stacy told the board: "During my time incarcerated, I've done my best to use my time in a constructive, rehabilitative manner, to become a productive man and, if given chance, to rejoin society.

"I currently work with the K9 division helping state, county and local law enforcement in apprehending felons and assisting with search and recovery of lost children and elderly. It's my chance to give back."

The board passed along the 44-year-old inmate's request "with merit" and recommended a commutation that would make Stacy eligible for parole.

Knowing the level-headed Gov. Asa Hutchinson over the years, I feel certain he will give the request thoughtful consideration and act on what he believes is the right thing to do.

Which leads me to part two. Some readers already know where I'm headed.

Last year I wrote more than once about the plight of inmate Belynda Goff of Green Forest, who also has spent nearly 20 years in prison without the possibility of parole in the 1994 bludgeoning murder of her husband, Stephen.

It was a brutal crime Goff has denied committing from the moment of her arrest that oddly came long after the crime itself, throughout her trial, and even during the plea-bargain offer she declined because she said she wouldn't plead guilty to a murder she did not commit.

This same parole board found Goff's lengthy, well-supported petition for commutation without merit although her case has been riddled with flaws, missing evidence and witnesses on her behalf who were never called to testify. You can read the grimy details for yourself by searching the Internet under her name.

The stench of injustice that surrounded the circumstances of her arrest and 1996 conviction was powerful enough to attract the attention and support of the Innocence Project of New York. And those busy folks in a nation teeming with injustices are mighty selective about which cases they accept.

"Goff was convicted of murdering her husband Stephen Goff in their home," the Innocence Project website explains, "... but has always maintained her innocence. There is strong evidence that Stephen was killed by people involved in an arson-for-hire group, from whom he may have stolen money. Belynda was convicted because of shoddy police work, as well as ineptitude and possible misconduct on the part of the prosecution. The evidence supporting Belynda's evidence has been ignored by authorities for decades. The Innocence Project is currently conducting DNA testing of crime scene evidence that could prove Belynda's innocence, but because pieces of crucial evidence have gone missing, testing may not be enough to vindicate Belynda."

The next development in her case will unfold at 2 p.m. Monday in the Carroll County Courthouse in Berryville. There, an Innocence Project attorney and another from an international law firm will question Gary Lester, the last officer to see and handle the potentially crucial DNA evidence that inexplicably went missing (along with paperwork) after the state Crime Laboratory turned it over to local police.

My point is to yet again ask the board and our governor to do the right thing by this mother and grandmother who has spent her time behind bars helping other female inmates in many ways. She has fought off understandable personal frustrations and periods of hopelessness as fellow inmates (recognizing her innocence and the glaring injustices in her case) have written letters of support for commuting her sentence of life without parole, as have jurors in her trial and the court bailiff.

Others who support Goff becoming eligible for parole also noted the seeming irony in the board finding merit in Stacy's appeal but none in Goff's request, even though the similar crimes occurred near the same time and each has already served over 20 years. One who understandably feels frustration and anger is Belynda's grown daughter, Bridgette.

"A man killed another man in 1994 with a tire iron," she wrote. "The board member that said he read her [Belynda's] case felt she was guilty despite everything pointing to the contrary. Yet she gets 'no merit,' but a man who admits to bludgeoning a man to death gets a thumbs up?"

I suspect Stacy's work and cooperation with law enforcement and a good prison record had something to do with getting the board's thumbs up. Plus he admits to committing his murder while Goff continues to insist she's innocent.

Would you confess to a murder you hadn't committed, even if doing so meant you might possibly become eligible for parole after nearly 20 years in prison?

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Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com.

Editorial on 08/29/2015

Print Headline: One thumb up, another down

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