PEWEE VALLEY — A former prostitute with a long criminal record on Wednesday apologized for her role in a 1987 kidnapping, rape and slaying, calling herself "a coward back then," but the Kentucky Parole Board opted to keep her in prison for at least five more years.
The two-member panel rejected 58-year-old Brenda Humphrey's move for immediate release from prison after a quarter-century, after quizzing her for more than 30 minutes about the death of 36-year-old Debbie Pooley, an Ohio native who lived in Covington at the time. The decision means Humphrey, who was sentenced to life without parole for 25 years, will not be eligible for release until at least 2017.
The board cited the seriousness of the crime as well as Pooley's death as reasons for the decision after the hearing at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley.
Humphrey, speaking publicly for the first time about Pooley's death and her role in it, apologized and said she was a drug abuser at the time of the crime. When asked what she would say to Pooley's family given the chance, Humphrey wasn't sure.
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"What could I say to the family? I hope they have found peace and closure," Humphrey said. "If me staying here makes them feel better, then that's where I should be."
Pooley's family and friends circulated an online petition that drew about 250 signatures calling for Humphrey to remain in prison. Family friend Kathy McBurney Salce of Miami, Fla., said the petition brought Pooley's friends back together and turned her from a "faceless victim" and made "Debbie come alive again."
"Today is a good day," Salce said.
Humphrey and 55-year-old Gregory Wilson were convicted in 1988 of kidnapping, raping, robbing and killing Pooley. Wilson is awaiting execution, a fate he avoided in 2010 when a judge halted lethal injections in the state after ruling Kentucky's method of carrying out the procedure was flawed. A final ruling in that case is pending.
Humphrey, wearing tinted glasses and a tan prison uniform, sat silently as board member Ray Winburn read off the details of Pooley's kidnapping, rape and murder. Periodically as Winburn spoke, Humphrey lowered her chin onto her fingers, but otherwise showed little emotion.
Winburn recounted how Humphrey and Wilson approached Pooley after she parked her car near her home in Covington, with Humphrey driving the vehicle as Wilson attacked Pooley in the back seat.
Humphrey and Wilson, who has an extensive criminal record in Ohio and Kentucky, drove toward Danville, Ill., and Wilson raped and killed Pooley along the way, with her body being dumped in a berry field not far from the Indiana-Illinois border. The pair then took Pooley's credit cards to make purchases at Kmart and Payless Shoes in Illinois before returning to Kentucky, where they were arrested several weeks later.
When asked about the details of the crime, Humphrey said she and Wilson, her then-boyfriend, were looking for a car to steal. Humphrey said she was unaware that Wilson planned to kidnap Pooley.
"I was a coward back then, sir," Humphrey told the parole panel. "I thought we were just getting the car. That's how it went down."