From the night her son was murdered by his wife, Shirley Perry was nagged by the feeling that the justice system wasn't interested in herfamily's loss.
Two-and-a-half years later, Perry says she has no doubt that the court system does not care about crime victims or their families.
On the afternoon of Sept. 4, she received the news she dreaded most from the county state's attorney's office. Via phone, she was toldthat her son's murderer, former Finksburg resident Amanda Ann Perry,had been freed from jail.
Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.granted Amanda Perry's request to be released from jail after the 29-year-old served 19 months of a six-year sentence for second-degree murder.
Burns released the woman after she filed two petitions to have her sentence modified. The county state's attorney's office, which opposed the release, had asked in vain for a hearing on the request.
Shirley Perry and her family wanted to tell the judge how they felt about the proposed release, but they never got the chance.
"How do you vent your frustrations?" a tearful Perry asked. "We have hadabsolutely nothing to say about any of this."
The Baltimore County woman is not alone in feeling that the justice system often forgetscrime victims.
James Purman, whose 17-year-old son Richard was murdered for his car by South Carroll High classmates in 1987, is the local contact for the national organization Parents of Murdered Children.
He is active in the group's Truth in Sentencing program, whichtries to keep murderers behind bars.
Almost every month, Purman receives petitions from families around the country. The petitions describe a murder, its victims, and the person convicted. They also listthe length of sentence, how much time the killer has spent in jail and the date of an upcoming parole hearing where he or she will ask tobe freed.
Purman said he takes the petitions to friends to be signed each month.
"It gives me a good feeling to do something to alleviate the pain of families of people who were murdered and to try tokeep criminals in jail so they don't do any more damage," he said.
Parents of Murdered Children maintains that if enough people sign the petitions, state parole commissions might think twice before releasing convicted killers, said Ann Reed, associate director of the Ohio-based organization.
Since the group began sending the petitions to parole boards, 37 parole requests have been denied and 33 put on hold, she said. None of the convicts has been released.
"All we're asking is that they serve the sentence they were given in full," Reed said. "If they do the crime, they should do the time."
Purman saidhe has come to expect to be stunned when he reads the petitions.
"Two-thirds of the time my reaction to either the original sentence, or the short time the person has served in jail before asking for parole, is shock," he said. "I show them to other people, and we always wonder where these sentences come from and why they are so light."
A recent petition out of Arkansas described a man who received a 10-year sentence for second-degree murder and was up for parole after serving two years.
In a California case, a man convicted of rape, robbery and murder by bludgeoning and stabbing served 15 years of a life sentence and was eligible for parole.
For victims of crime and their families, the fight is never over, Purman said.
"Apparently, sentences don't mean what they say," he said. "People think that whensomeone goes to jail, that's it. But the next thing you know, it's parole time, and you have to keep up the fight."
Purman knows a lotabout keeping up the fight. His son's teen-age murderers each were sentenced to two life terms plus 10 years. Since then, his family has spent many nervous days awaiting the outcome of several appeals filedby the killers, Brian Tracy and Brian Richard Jordan.
Purman saidhe breathed a sigh of relief in July when the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld Richard Jordan's conviction. But his relief was to be short-lived. A few days after the appellate court ruling was announced, Jordan's attorney filed a request to have a Carroll judge review his client's sentence for possible reduction.
In Maryland, convicted criminals do not have to wait for parole commissions to review their sentences; they can ask a judge to modify their sentence within 90 days. Jordan's initial request to have his sentence modified was put on hold until the state's highest court ruled on his appeal.
Because the judge who sentenced Jordan has since retired, another Carroll judge will hear the request Nov. 12. The hearing is expected to last up to three days.
For the Purman family, that means three days of reliving the crime.
"Almost four years down the road we are getting ready to go back," Purman said. "I dread going there."
While victims' families often view modifications as a failure of the judicial system, defense attorneys see them as an important right for their clients.
"Modifications and sentencing hearings are a opportunity for judges to see defendants as their defense attorneys see them -- as human beings. And also, in a sense, as victims," Westminster attorney Judith Stainbrook said. "It allows the judge to exercise some mercy."
Among victims of crimes and their families, exasperation with the judicial system is widespread. At a recent meeting of Parents of Murdered Children in Winchester, Va., murder victims' families told horror stories about their treatment by police, prosecutors and judges.
But frustration is not limited to the families of crime victims. The early release of convicted murderers in Carroll has prompted county residents to express their anger in letters to judges and newspapers.
The public outrage has caught the attention of at least one county politician. Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, is planning to re-introduce legislation to keep a public record of sentences imposed by appeals, circuit and district court judges for serious and violentcrimes.
Shirley Perry believes that public record might be a start.
"There has to be someone looking over their shoulder to see what these judges are doing," she said. "Our cause has gone by the wayside, but this might be able to help someone else."