Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Friday withdrew contempt findings against the state parole board, ruling it had complied with his orders to reconfigure the parole eligibility of a 57-year-old Little Rock man who had successfully overturned a life sentence he received at age 17.
The judge further found that the board had granted Terrance Proctor a parole hearing as ordered, although it refused to grant Proctor early release. Regardless of the board, Proctor's freedom after 40 years of incarceration is in sight. He's been imprisoned so long that his parole on Feb. 12 will be automatic.
Griffen had ruled the board was in contempt last month based on a complaint by Proctor but withdrew that finding after Friday's hearing on the matter.
Proctor, acting as his own lawyer, argued that sanctions were warranted because what authorities contended was the parole hearing required by the judge was a "sham" that did not comply with the law.
Proctor said he had been told he was being called into a meeting with his lawyer, but it turned out to be his parole hearing. He said he was forced to go through the proceeding without legal representation or being allowed to present evidence to show he was entitled to early release.
"I was completely thrown off and blindsided," Proctor told the judge Friday. "They cheated. They never had intentions to grant me parole."
The board's lawyer, Pamela Rumpz, a senior assistant attorney general, urged the judge to rescind his contempt finding because officials had done what they were told to do: recalculate Proctor's parole eligibility to make him immediately eligible for release, and give him a parole hearing.
Rumpz told the judge that the February 2021 parole hearing was cut short due to Proctor's "belligerent" behavior, noting in court pleadings that Proctor "would not accept responsibility for any of the disciplinary violations he incurred while incarcerated."
Proctor disputed that he behaved badly at the hearing, and Griffen recognized Proctor's dissatisfaction with the hearing. But the judge said he did not have the authority to address Proctor's complaints, stating that all he could do was evaluate whether Proctor had been given a parole hearing.
"Mr. Proctor, just because you don't like the way [the hearing] went ... I can't hold them in contempt," the judge said.
Proctor was sentenced to life, plus 200 years, in January 1983, about two weeks before turning 18, after pleading guilty to robbery and 10 counts of aggravated robbery on the advice of his attorney.
The sentencing judge said he wanted Proctor imprisoned until Proctor was "an old man."
"My intention is to keep you there for most of the rest of your life," the sentencing judge told him.
Proctor later said he was never told prosecutors had offered him a 30-year prison sentence. He said he was not guilty in all of the cases but entered the pleas on the advice of his lawyer.
Proctor, who had been recommended for executive clemency in 2008, had few grounds to challenge his sentence until 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no-parole life sentences are unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishments for juvenile offenders who have not killed anyone.
Proctor, without a lawyer representing him, succeeded in having his life sentence vacated in a ruling that replaced it with a 240-year term. He went to the Arkansas Supreme Court to challenge that sentence as illegal, arguing that 240 years still amounted to an illegal life term for crimes committed as a juvenile who did not hurt or kill anyone.
He lost at the high court but, advised by Little Rock lawyer Michael Kaiser, convinced Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that prison officials were wrongly applying a 2017 law, the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act, to determine his parole eligibility. The judge agreed, finding that Proctor's parole eligibility date should have been recalculated to 2003 under the Fair Sentencing law.
The board appealed the judge's findings to the state Supreme Court, which upheld his decision in October 2021.The case ended up before Griffen after Piazza retired in 2020.