The Further Trials of Eroy Brown
Eroy Brown's parole is in the hands of the TDCJ
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a long memory.
That's the lesson relearned in the Eroy Brown case, in which the institutional recollection of TDCJ and its officials has held steady over the last 30 years, ever since Brown was acquitted of murder in the 1981 deaths of Ellis Unit warden Wallace Pack and prison farm manager Billy Moore. The story is well told in Michael Berryhill's recent book, The Trials of Eroy Brown ("Point Austin: Recalling Eroy Brown," Feb. 17). Subsequently returned to jail as an accessory to a $12 robbery – and sentenced to 90 years as a "habitual criminal" – Brown has served out his sentence in federal prison (to protect him from retaliation) and, now 60 years old, is eligible for parole. Indeed, were he anybody else, he would likely have been paroled long ago; he even has a nonprofit halfway house specializing in long-term inmates (Partnership for Reentry) ready to accept him in Los Angeles, where he has family.
Huntsville attorney Bill Habern was on Brown's original defense team and represents him in his parole case. In what he acknowledges is an extraordinary circumstance, Habern has asked that former TDCJ employees (or their immediate relatives) be recused from the three-member panel assigned to decide Brown's parole – the current panel would include two Huntsville-based former TDCJ employees, including a retired warden. "We are acutely aware that those selected to make up the Brown Panel," Habern wrote on Jan. 18 to Rissie Owens, chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, "face the potential of extremely negative reactions from their old friends and social contacts who are employees of the Texas prison system, especially if they were to vote in a favorable manner."
Owens was not persuaded. In a brief response to Habern dated Jan. 24, she cited the "great integrity" and "utmost professionalism" of the parole reviewers and said she would not alter the panel nor change the venue. She added, "Please assure your client that the pending parole review will be conducted fairly and without any voter bias being involved."
Habern remains dubious. He commented via email to the Chronicle: "Everyone in Huntsville, and particularly those Huntsville citizens who still work at TDCJ, still believe Eroy is totally guilty in spite of 35 of 36 jurors and a federal judge declaring otherwise. What do you think the odds are that either of those ex-TDCJ employees are going to vote for Eroy's parole, and continue to have favorable relations with their old TDCJ-employed prison buddies?"