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Sister of late Robert Curley champions change in parole consideration in Pa.

Last updated: April 09. 2013 11:34PM - 1340 Views
By TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER



Susan Hooper, sister of Robert Curley, who was poisoned to death by his wife, has pushed to get the right for victims to testify in person in front of the parole board when criminals are up for parole. A new bill sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker would give them that right.
Susan Hooper, sister of Robert Curley, who was poisoned to death by his wife, has pushed to get the right for victims to testify in person in front of the parole board when criminals are up for parole. A new bill sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker would give them that right.
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PLAINS TWP. — Susan Hooper has fought valiantly each of the last six years to keep brother Robert Curley’s killer in prison.


She has written letters, launched petition drives, spoken to prosecutors and state legislators, all in the hope of ensuring Joann Curley serves the maximum 20 years of her prison sentence for poisoning him to death. For all her success (Joann Curley has been denied parole each year), Hooper has remained frustrated that she was never given the chance to address the parole board in person.


It appears that’s about to change, thanks in part to the efforts of state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township.


On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 508, which would require the parole board to provide victims or their family members the right to testify in person when the offender who harmed them is being considered for release. The bill now will go to the state House for consideration.


Current law permits a crime victim to present written or oral comments for parole board consideration, as well as to testify before a hearing examiner, but does not allow for direct testimony before the board. Baker’s bill would address that gap in the process.


“Putting words on paper doesn’t always match the emotional impact of face-to-face input,” Baker said. “We afford families the chance to make a victim impact statement during sentencing, but we don’t give them an equal opportunity when the perpetrator is seeking to come back into the community.”


Joann Curley pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in July 1997 and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. She has come up for parole each year since 2006. She was last denied in June 2012 and will be reviewed again in December 2014.


Hooper, of Plains Township, organized a letter-writing drive the first year Curley was up for parole, convincing 700 people to write letters opposing her release. She has continued those efforts each year.


“I’ve done everything I possibly could,” she said. “I’ve sent letters, had thousands of people sign petitions. We’ve sent videos and photo albums. Anything you and possibly think of.”


Still, she has longed for the day she could address the board in person, she said.


She has wanted to tell them about what a hardworking, loving and caring man Robert was — until that day in 1991 when Joann began to systematically poison him with thallium by spiking his iced tea with rat poison. Over the next two months, Hooper and other family members watched helplessly as the poison ravaged Robert’s body, leading to his agonizingly painful death on Sept. 27, 1991.


“Bobby was such a great brother. He was full of fun and laughter,” Hooper said. “It was the worst experience of my life to watch my brother go through such pain. It was just unbearable.”


Hooper repeatedly has recounted those feelings in letters, but they don’t have the same impact as seeing someone face to face, she said. “Unfortunately, Bobby can’t be here to speak for himself, so I’m his voice,” she said. “I want them to know who Bobby really was, and what she did to him. Writing it in a letter is not the same as telling the story.”


Hooper has been one of the main advocates for Baker’s bill. She travelled to Harrisburg multiple times to meet with parole board officials and legislators to garner their support.


Her efforts apparently paid off.


The parole board, which recently came under new leadership, is the process of changing its policy to allow in-person testimony, Baker said. She has continued pushing her bill so that the policy becomes law, ensuring future board leadership won’t revert to the old policy.


Hooper said she’ll be forever grateful to Baker for her assistance.


“For so long I wanted to do this,” said Hooper. “She offered to help us, and it’s finally moving forward. We are so thankful.”


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