ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A convicted cop killer was granted parole even though he was sentenced to a life sentence for the crime.
Timothy Eling, 62, was notified this week that he will be released from prison in a few years.
Eling was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Oakdale Police Officer Richard Walton, who was shot and killed in 1982. He was off-duty at the time.
Eling’s drug addiction led him to rob a St. Paul hospital pharmacy where Walton, a father of five, was moonlighting off-duty as a security guard.
On Thursday, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Corrections, Tom Roy, faced tough questions from lawmakers about why he paroled Eling. The hearing was called by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee because they wanted an explanation.
If Eling completes the terms of his release, he will be free Dec. 15, 2015. He is currently serving four additional years for smuggling drugs into prison 15 years ago.
Roy said Eling has earned his release with good behavior. He said Eling has changed his life.
“We have lived with these individuals every day, 365 days a year, day and night, multiple times during the day, in treatment, in school, in their interactions. But in the case of Mr. Eling especially, they have noted that as a sincere, heartfelt and soulful change,” Roy said.
Roy said he was following guidelines from state statues in determining Eling’s release.
Eling was sentenced before 1989, and during that time people who were sentenced to life for murder could possibly be paroled. After 1989, the law changed and judges could sentence people to life without parole.
The law was also changed in 1993 to mandate life without parole for killing a police officer.
Roy told lawmakers there are 150 other inmates who have life sentences who were sentenced before 1989, so this situation could come up again.
The committee chairman, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, disagreed, telling Roy he believes corrections commissioners have enough discretion under the old law to deny parole to the worst offenders. He asked whether there was any crime so severe that Roy would refuse to parole the person who committed it. Roy replied that he doesn’t have the authority to impose more severe sentences than those handed down by the courts.
Much of the discussion centered on the themes of forgiveness and redemption. Former Gov. Al Quie, who has been active in prison ministries, testified what a difference it made when he met with a prisoner who had committed a heinous crime against one of Quie’s relatives, and told him he forgave him.
“Folks, there’s something important in redemption. I ask you not to take that hope away from people who are in prison,” Quie told the committee.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, who’s also been active in prison ministries, told Quie he agrees about the value of forgiveness and redemption, but that offenders must still face the full consequences of what they’ve done. He said the case shows the need to restore capital punishment in Minnesota.
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