Corrections commissioner decides whether to parole four convicted murderers

Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell discusses prison staffing
Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell speaks during an interview in his St. Paul office on June 5, 2019. Schnell will review the life sentences of four convicted murderers on Thursday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News file

Updated: 6:52 p.m. | Posted: 4 a.m.

A man convicted of murdering a Minneapolis police officer nearly 40 years ago may be granted parole on Thursday. Isaac Brown shot and killed Minneapolis police officer Richard Miller in 1981.

The decision of whether to parole Brown is in the hands of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, a former longtime police officer. Schnell said he's aware that some police officers want Brown to stay in prison.

"I've lost people — friends of mine — in the line of duty, so I have a sensitivity to that,” said Schnell. “I feel also the sense that I have a responsibility and an obligation to follow the law, both as a police officer and in this role.”

Current and former members of the Minneapolis Police Department haven’t forgotten Miller’s murder. Retired MPD officer Mike Quinn was on duty the day Miller was killed and participated in a department-wide manhunt for Brown.

“This is just a cold-blooded murder and I don’t think he deserves parole,” said Quinn.

Last year, Brown was placed in a work-release program which requires him to stay at a halfway house. Brown has also participated in a program designed to help current and former inmates transition to life outside of prison created by the Power of People Leadership Institute.

Schnell said if he determines that Brown is eligible for parole, Brown will be placed in a heightened-supervision program.

"Intensive supervision will have intensive supervised release agents who will be visiting them at different times on a random basis, numerous times each week,” said Schnell.

Brown is one of four convicted murderers whose sentences are being reviewed. However, that doesn’t mean the other men are close to being paroled. Schnell said under state law, inmates given an indeterminate sentence — or a life sentence which allows for parole — have the right to a review three years before they are eligible for release.

Another man under review is David Brom, 47. In 1988, Brom murdered four members of his family with an axe. However, Brom was given consecutive murder convictions, meaning he’ll be a senior citizen before he’s eligible for parole.

Schnell said in Brom’s case, it is possible that he could receive a parole on the first life sentence. But instead of getting out, he’d begin serving the next penalty.

Minnesota is one of four states that does not have an independent parole board to decide when inmates with indeterminate sentences can be released. Schnell and others favor the creation of an independent parole board.

While the decision to parole a lifer is his alone, Schnell relies on input from a panel of experts and staff. And there have been times that he’s delayed release for people, even though they’ve served enough time to be eligible for parole.

“Because what I’ve observed and what the experts have told me and what the assessments indicated, they are not ready to be released,” said Schnell. “So, I just want people to know that there is not a presumption for parole.”

Update (Sept. 26, 2019): On Thursday, Corrections Department’s spokesperson Sarah Fitzgerald said during a review hearing, Isaac Brown was not granted parole. Fitzgerald also said Brown remains on community-based work release.

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