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Violent Suffolk offenders paroled

Correction: The original version of this story stated these releases are the result of a bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam that extends parole eligibility for any person who was sentenced to life for felonies committed while they were a juvenile and has served at least 20 years. That new law does not go into effect until July; Schooley and Reid already were eligible for parole because their crimes were committed prior to 1995.

In 1979, 16-year-old Patrick Schooley Jr. was given three life sentences for the robbery, abduction and murder of a 78-year-old woman who lived close to his family in Suffolk.

In 1995, 17-year-old Dwayne Markee Reid got a life sentence for his second Suffolk murder in less than three years.

The only thing they have in common, besides their violent pasts, is that they’re now back on the streets.

Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson received separate notices last week from the Virginia Department of Corrections, informing him that both men would be released.

They’re hardly the only such notices that have come across his desk in recent weeks. They were only the most serious offenders, both having been convicted of capital murder but spared the death penalty in part because of their ages at the time of their offenses, according to Suffolk News-Herald archives.

Ferguson said on May 1 that he could not imagine why the state parole board thought it appropriate to release Reid and Schooley, among others.

“These are the most violent criminals we’ve had in the city of Suffolk, and they’re turning them loose,” Ferguson said.

The new releases are not solely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, although that may have been a contributing factor in the parole board’s decisions. The parole board did not return a request for comment on that or other questions, and it was not immediately clear whether victims’ families were advised or asked to provide input.

Schooley was 15 years old on Feb. 1, 1979, when he went to the Collins Road home of Bessie Rountree, according to the Suffolk News-Herald archives. He told her he wanted to use the telephone and, once inside, robbed her. He later assaulted her and then stabbed her to death.

A decade and a half later, Reid was committing his second murder when he killed 32-year-old Thomas Runyon on Aug. 19, 1993 near Spruce and Van Buren streets. He was 16 years old. He had been found guilty in his first killing at age 14.

“We’re not talking about non-violent, drug-related offenses, that kind of stuff,” Ferguson said. “We’re talking about capital murder.”

Ferguson said he is very concerned about the criminals who are being put back on the streets.

“Suffolk has done really well in recent years,” he said. “We’ve had a really low violent crime rate. But they are releasing the worst of the worst.

“I am very concerned for the safety of the people of Suffolk because of the actions of the parole board in Richmond.”

Ferguson said he is also concerned for the victims’ families.

“Criminals are being treated like victims, and victims and victims’ rights are being ignored,” he said.