By AMY FORLITI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Robbinsdale Police Officer John Scanlon was sitting in his patrol car one morning in 1985, when a robbery suspect shot him through his window. Scanlon never spoke to the man, never drew his weapon.
Now, a group of authorities in Minnesota are opposing the release of Scanlon's killer, who is scheduled for a parole hearing Monday.
Several authorities have written letters to the Department of Corrections, urging that Ronald Schneider remain behind bars. The coordinated effort comes months after the law enforcement community was stunned when the state granted parole for another man convicted of killing an officer. He, like Schneider, was sentenced under old laws that allow for the possibility of release.
In an April 2 letter to Department of Corrections, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek wrote that denying parole is good public policy and "sends a clear message that the killing of police officers -- our first line of defense and protectors of our society -- is both unacceptable and unforgivable."
Schneider, 70, was sentenced to life in prison under laws that made him eligible for parole after 17 years. State law was changed in 1993, mandating life without parole for those convicted of killing a police officer.
But the Department of Corrections said it must adhere to laws that were in place when Schneider was sentenced.
"We cannot retroactively sentence this man," said department spokesman John Schadl.
Schneider is one of five men convicted of killing police officers and serving a sentence under the old law. This is the second time Schneider has been up for a parole hearing; he was denied parole 10 years ago.
Minneapolis attorney Craig Cascarano, who defended Schneider, remembers him as a "very meek and mild man" who had a mental illness that was not severe enough for jurors to acquit him. If psychiatrists believe Schneider's mental illness has dissipated, Cascarano believes he should be released.
"He's 70 years old. He's paid for his crime," Cascarano said Friday. "I certainly don't think given all the time that he's spent (in prison) that he's the worst cop killer in the world."
Last November, the state granted parole for Timothy Eling, who was serving a life sentence for the 1982 killing of Oakdale Officer Richard Walton. Eling won't be released for at least another four years, because he must finish serving a consecutive sentence for smuggling drugs into prison.
Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy defended his decision at the time, saying Eling met all the legal conditions for parole.
Schadl wouldn't talk about Schneider's chances for parole prior to the hearing. But he did say public safety is the top concern, and in all cases, offenders need to demonstrate they have changed since their incarceration by staying out of trouble, completing treatment, or working prison jobs.
Monday's parole hearing will be closed. Schadl said Roy typically meets with a victim's family members before hearing from the offender.
Law enforcement officials have made it clear they view the parole of a police officer's killer as a personal affront.
James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, sent a letter April 2 on behalf of the state's sheriffs, writing "the cold blooded killing of a peace officer is an attack on the very basis of (our) free society."
Robbinsdale Police Chief Steven Smith also insisted that Schneider remain in custody.
"I think it sends a terrible message to law enforcement officers who put their lives at risk every day serving the community," Smith said.
Stanek, Hennepin County's sheriff, said law enforcement should be notified when someone who killed an officer is up for parole. He said that if it were not for Scanlon's family, he wouldn't have known about Schneider's hearing.
Scott Crandall, Scanlon's nephew, took the lead in contacting law enforcement. He said the very idea of parole has been hard on the family.
"We viewed it kind of as a life sentence, being somewhat naive at the time of trial -- not ever envisioning that this individual would have access to parole," Crandall said.
When asked if the Eling decision spurred his family to act, Crandall said: "I think there's some precedence and some fear that the floodgates may be open. ... This is a crime of which there shouldn't be parole."