Bryan Durman Act would affect parole in certain homicide cases

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 24, 2013 

A Lexington state lawmaker has named a bill that would affect parole eligibility for certain homicide crimes in honor of Lexington police officer Bryan J. Durman who died in a 2010 hit-and-run accident.

Under Senate Bill 15, which Republican State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly Jan. 8, people convicted of second-degree manslaughter after the summer of 2013 would be considered violent offenders. As a result, they would have to serve 85 percent of their sentence, instead of 20 percent before they were eligible for parole.

People convicted of second-degree manslaughter are considered non-violent offenders under the current law.

Senate Bill 15, known as The Durman Act, will help families of victims in the future, Kerr said.

"When this bill passes," Kerr said, "victims' families are going to be able to have the assurance that the perpetrator of this murder or homicide will have to spend many more years serving the sentence."

If the proposed bill becomes law, it would not affect Glenn Doneghy, who was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison on charges that included second-degree manslaughter in Durman's death. Doneghy must serve 20 percent of his sentence on the second-degree manslaughter conviction before he is eligible for parole.

Still, the Doneghy case was the impetus behind the bill.

Brandy Durman, Durman's widow, said she asked Kerr to introduce the bill. She said in an interview Wednesday that after consulting with family members, she wrote Kerr a letter and Kerr agreed to meet with her.

Durman said she really has faith in legislators "that they will push this bill through because it will truly help victims of crimes and make the punishment fit the crime."

Doneghy was convicted of driving a sport utility vehicle that struck Bryan Durman, 27, on North Limestone on the night of April 29, 2010.

Durman was struck while investigating a noise complaint. The officer died a short time later. Durman was the first Lexington police officer to die in the line of duty in about 25 years, according to Herald-Leader archives. Doneghy was initially charged with murder. Prosecutors in a three-week trial, argued that he struck Durman intentionally while Durman was standing by the open door of a vehicle parked on the street.

According to court records and testimony, no one saw who was behind the wheel of Doneghy’s vehicle when Durman was struck.

When he was sentenced, Doneghy received credit for the 484 days he had already spent in jail, according to the newspaper's archives. He is eligible for parole in April 2014, said Kentucky Department of Corrections spokesman Todd Henson.

Fayette Commonwealths' Attorney Ray Larson said Kerr's legislation "brings realism to Kentucky laws."

"The fact of the matter is, when somebody is killed, whether it is murder, manslaughter first-degree manslaughter second-degree ... or reckless homicide, it's a violent crime. It's a fantasy to call what happened to Bryan Durman non-violent. It's nonsensical," Larson said.

The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposes the legislation, said spokesman Ernie Lewis.

"It doesn't allow for judges and parole boards to look at the person. It takes away the discretion of the judge and the parole board to look at the person and the circumstances and adjust the sentence — and when they get out — to those circumstances," Lewis said.

Under the bill, those convicted of reckless homicide would also be considered violent offenders, Forgy said.

Second-degree manslaughter is a Class C felony with a sentence of 5 to 10 years. Reckless homicide is a Class D felony with a sentence of 1 to five years. Eighty-five percent of those sentences would be 4.25 to 8.5 years and 10.2 months to 4.25 years, respectively, according to a Corrections impact statement attached to the bill.

Senate Bill 15 has been sent to the Senate Judiciary committee for consideration.

Committee Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who will decide whether to call the legislation for a vote, "is in the process of reviewing the bill and will be conferring with Sen. Kerr," Lourdes Báez-Schrader, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Senate Majority said in an e-mail.

The chair of the House Judiciary committee, John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said what Kerr "is attempting to do is certainly right in the discussion of what we've been talking about for some time now."

Tilley said there are a group of crimes "that seem to be by their nature violent and so they need to come up from the 20 percent category into a violent offender category of some type."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409.Twitter:@vhspears

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