EAST LIVERPOOL - A man convicted in the 1987 murder of a local resident will spend at least another nine years in prison after being denied release by the Ohio Parole Board.
Robert A. Carpenter, now 49, is serving a term of 15 years to life on murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges in the death of Kevin Burks, 24, who was lured from his grandmother's house in the city by Carpenter and his co-defendants David Lee Hudson, Peter Martin and Billy Wayne Smith.
They drove him to a remote location in Brush Creek Township in Jefferson County, where he was tortured, stabbed and shot then finally killed by having his throat slashed.
Carpenter, also 24 at the time, maintained during the subsequent arrest and trials that he had not taken part in Burks' torture or murder but that he was too afraid of his cohorts to stop them or tell anyone later about what had happened.
He later turned state's evidence against his co-defendants, resulting in a lesser sentence for Carpenter than the others received.
During a parole hearing Feb. 21, Burks' sisters, Jackie Hicks and Jennifer Hicks presented their reasons for why their brother's killer should not be set free after serving 25 years.
Family members differ on decision
By JO ANN BOBBY-GILBERT
EAST LIVERPOOL While the family of Kevin Burks is pleased with the Ohio Parole Board's decision to keep one of his killers in prison, defendant Robert Carpenter's step-daughter said he is haunted every day by the crime that has kept him behind bars long enough.
Burks' sisters Jennifer and Jacqueline Hicks testified before the parole board Feb. 21, as did Carpenter's step-daughter Crystal Horan, who participated from Florida via video conference.
His sisters had launched a petition drive to convince the board that Carpenter should remain locked up at the Southern Correctional Institution in Mansfield following his conviction in 1987 for murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery.
Horan, on the other hand, spoke to the board about her father's failing health since he's been incarcerated and also about his attempt to become a productive citizen during those 25 years.
This week, the Hicks twins said they were grateful to the parole board and especially to those people who signed petitions on their brother's behalf.
"We are extremely happy and relieved with the parole board's decision. Our grateful appreciation to the board," Jennifer said.
Throughout the trials of the four defendants, Burks' murder was described as racially motivated, with testimony given that the four white men set out to find a black person the night of the killing. Failing to find that specific man, they set their sites on Burks.
However, Horan said the crime was never racially-motivated, that her step-father is not a racist and, in fact, accepted bi-racial dating and children in the family.
"I know that, at first, the 'n' word was used (the night of the murder), but I know that would never come out of my dad's mouth," Horan said in a phone conversation with the paper this week.
Jennifer Hicks disagreed, saying, "Our family never made this a racial issue. Peter Martin, David Hudson, Billy Wayne Smith and Robert Carpenter did when they murdered a man for the color of his skin."
Horan said her father is not like his co-defendants, against whom he testified.
"I don't know why they keep saying he's like the other three. Even the plea agreement said he wasn't the perpetrator. Even the letter Sheriff (Fred) Abdalla gave to the parole board said he wasn't the perpetrator but just that he didn't do anything to help," Horan said, adding, "He would have been body number two for them if he had tried to make them stop. He did tell them to stop, it had gone too far. He lives every single day with the haunting thought of not helping Kevin Burks. Every day, he's probably thought about what he could have done differently."
But Burks' sisters don't agree, with Jennifer saying, "It was a self-serving act (for Carpenter to offer evidence against the others). He didn't do anything to save my brother's life. He gave my brother a life sentence without a trial, per se, and he should get the same."
Jacqueline agreed, saying, "This person knew my brother's life was going to end, and for that I am glad he will never see freedom. Kevin has no voice, so ... I will speak for him and make sure justice will always be served in his name."
Horan said her father signed a plea bargain giving him 15 years to life, but that his lack of education - and the ability to read and write well - may have led him to believe it said something else.
She maintained that, though the written agreement does state that, he was told verbally if he testified against the others, he would serve only eight years and nine months.
"Abdalla told my mom my dad did the right thing. I remember him saying, 'Your daddy will be out before you're in high school,'" Horan recalled.
In tears, she said, "He really thought this was the time he'd be released. He was afraid to call home (after the board denied his parole), thinking we'd given up on him."
Carpenter suffered a heart attack in 2004 and two more the week of the parole hearing, according to Horan.
"He's not in the best of health," she said.
During his incarceration, her father has earned his GED, completed anger management classes, attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and learned different trades, according to Horan.
Although the Hicks sisters said previously that, unlike his co-defendant David Hudson, Carpenter had never written a letter of apology for his deeds, Horan said it came out during the parole hearing that he had, in fact, written such a letter as part of one of his classes in prison.
She could not explain why Burks' sisters had never seen the letter, saying perhaps it went to his mother, who is now deceased.
"It was a hard letter to write for him," Horan said.
Asked if she thinks her step-father regrets his part in the crime, she said without hesitation, "Absolutely. He's haunted by it every day," saying he has "totally changed" since his incarceration, going from a 24-year-old partier who liked to drink and do drugs into a 49-year-old man who attends church and reads the Bible.
"He's not this young punk now who thinks about drugs every day. He's gotten into trouble once in 25 years, for having a lighter," Horan said.
And, while Burks' sisters and his late mother have often talked about the loss of their brother and son, Horan said, "Kevin Burks' family wasn't the only one who lost someone that night. I feel I'm losing mine, too."
She also took issue with current prosecutor Jane Hanlin testifying against her father at the parole hearing, saying, "She was 17 when this happened; she had nothing to do with this case."
A phone call to Hanlin for comment was not returned.
Jennifer and Jacqueline will speak about the impact their brother's death had on their family during a Black History Month presentation at 6 p.m. Saturday at the United Brethren Church in Pleasant Heights.
Through his step-daughter, Carpenter was invited to call with comments for this article, but Horan said his attorney advised against it.
Carpenter had reportedly been recommended for release, but the parole board can stop that release any time up to and including the day of release if "significant new information" is received.
After hearing all the information presented, which included testimony from Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin and a letter from Sheriff Fred Abdalla, the board denied Carpenter's parole.
According to information obtained by the media from the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, the board reached a majority decision to detain Carpenter until Sept. 1, 2022, when he will again be eligible for parole.
"The board finds that, given the significant impact to the victim's family and the details surrounding the offense, including the crime's callousness and senselessness, release at this time would not further the interest of justice and would demean the seriousness of the offense," the board wrote in its decision.
Members based their decision on two criteria: That there is substantial reason to believe Carpenter will engage in further criminal conduct if released or will not conform to the conditions of release and that there is substantial reason to believe that, due to the serious nature of the crime, releasing Carpenter into society would create "undue risk to public safety" or would not further the interest of justice or be consistent with the welfare and security of society.