Convicted murderer Robert Breest denied parole, says he hasn’t had sex offender treatment
Convicted murderer Robert Breest didn’t ask for a parole hearing. But the Department of Corrections decided to hold one for him yesterday to see whether anything had changed in the 16 years since he last went before the board.
The answer was no.
Breest – who has maintained that he didn’t murder Susan Randall 42 years ago and is fighting for a new trial – said he still hasn’t submitted to a sex offender evaluation.
The board, as it has before, said Breest would need to do so before they’d consider letting him out.
“I understand that,” 75-year-old Breest said, speaking by phone from the Massachusetts facility where he is being held.
“Any other questions?” board member Jeff Brown asked.
“Yeah, is this the end?” Breest said.
“Thank you,” Breest replied before the line went dead.
Breest was convicted in 1973 of murdering 18-year-old Randall, whose body was found beaten and half-naked in the Merrimack River in Concord. He was sentenced to serve between 40 years (less with good behavior) and life in prison.
If Breest ever considered parole to be an avenue for his release, he seems now to have abandoned that option. In 1996, at his last hearing, the board made the same recommendation about taking part in sex offender treatment.
Instead, Breest has tried to clear his name through four rounds of DNA testing.
All failed to exonerate him.
Last month, a team of lawyers initiated another attempt, saying in a motion at Merrimack County Superior Court that “science has cast new light into the dark corners of this case” and revealed “a crime that looks nothing like the one the state presented at trial.”
The lawyers cite a new test conducted in 2012, which they say showed at least three people’s DNA present under Randall’s fingernails: her own, a man who definitely was not Breest and a man who may or may not have been Breest.
Since prosecutors believe Breest committed the crime alone, the evidence shows their theory is flawed, the lawyers argue in the motion.
The evidence, they say, warrants a new trial.
“At the end of a new trial on this evidence, Breest would likely be released,” they wrote. “Released after more than 40 years. Released into the arms of his wife and family, who have stood by him across the decades. The beginning of the end is now; Robert Breest is entitled to a new trial.”
But DNA tests aren’t infallible.
Brad Jenkins, a forensic biology program manager at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, said quality assurance must be considered when testing an old DNA sample.
“It’s hard to say without going into specifics if the evidence has been compromised over the years, but it’s one of the things we try to look at.
. . . How was the sample stored over those years? If the sample was tested, how was it treated?” he said.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeff Strelzin has declined to comment on the motion for a new trial, saying state prosecutors would respond in court.
Paula Hembree, Randall’s niece, was at yesterday’s hearing but didn’t speak to the board or comment after its decision. She and her family members have said they have no doubt in Breest’s guilt.
Andrea Goldberg, the parole board’s executive assistant, said yesterday’s hearing was requested because an official at the Department of Corrections decided “it’s about time we get something on the record to see where he is.”
“He did not initiate it,” she said. “Because he has always been unable to meet the conditions that the board set out.”