ANNAPOLIS – Sue Mathis got her first black eye from her former husband shortly after they were married 30 years ago.
Two decades later, after repeated abuse, she mustered the gumption to bring assault charges for the first time and file for divorce. He responded by stabbing her repeatedly with an eight- inch hunting knife.
Although her ex-husband is now in prison with 20 years left on his sentence, Mathis says she fears he will make parole and return to attack her again.
She told her story to state lawmakers Tuesday in support of a bill that would give crime victims the right to speak out at parole hearings against the early release of their persecutors. Currently, victims may submit written arguments, but have no right to testify.
The 49-year-old stabbing victim from Baltimore County said members of the Maryland Parole Commission should see “some of the scars I will live with for the rest of my life.”
“They need to know that I still live in fear,” she told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Mathis said she was never notified of her former husband’s bid for a reduced sentence until it was an accomplished fact – even though she had written to parole commissioners and other state officials requesting such notification.
“To this date I have received no notification of any actions taken since the original sentencing,” she testified. “Not only have I been the victim of this criminal, but I have also been the victim of the criminal justice system.”
The bill sponsored by Sen. Michael J. Collins, D-Baltimore County, would add to the rights crime victims were given under a constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly during a statewide referendum in 1994.
Paul J. Davis, chairman of the Parole Commission, told lawmakers he was not opposed to victim testimony but does not support a provision of the bill that would also let victims rebut prisoner statements.
Such rebuttal, Davis said, is not appropriate at parole hearings, where prisoners do not testify but are interviewed. Allowing victim rebuttal, he said, could lead courts to require that prisoners be represented by their lawyers at parole hearings.
Davis said the Parole Commission, anticipating Collins’ bill, had drawn up regulations allowing victim testimony for five minutes at the start of parole hearings.
But Mathis said five minutes is not enough.
“I had stab wounds so deep they couldn’t be stitched,” she said. “I had to learn to walk again. My fingers on my left hand were nearly severed. “Five minutes for my life?” -30-