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Controversy at the Office

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

-- Aug. 5, 1973: U.S. Park Service ranger Kenneth Patrick is shot to death at Point Reyes National Seashore outside San Francisco.

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-- April 26, 1974: Veronza Bowers Jr., convicted of murdering Patrick, is sentenced to life in prison.

-- 1984: Congress establishes sentencing guidelines and sets a timetable for closing down the U.S. Parole Commission. The commission's life is extended repeatedly; today it has a multimillion-dollar budget and nearly 80 employees.

-- May 2005: The Parole Commission deadlocks 2 to 2, with one abstention, on whether Bowers is entitled to mandatory parole. Under law, that vote means he should be released.

-- June 1, 2005: Commissioner Deborah Spagnoli writes a 14-page memo about Bowers's case to the office of then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

-- June 9, 2005: Gonzales asks the Parole Commission to "clarify" its "initial decision" granting Bowers his freedom. Bowers is soon notified that his release is on hold.

-- Oct. 6, 2005: The Parole Commission votes 4 to 0, with one abstention, to keep Bowers in prison indefinitely. Spagnoli sends a one-word e-mail to a senior counsel at the Justice Department: "Victory."

-- June 2006: Commission Chairman Edward F. Reilly Jr. reports that on Father's Day, someone secretly entered his office and copied files.

-- April 2007: Spagnoli announces plans to resign, citing her stress level and resistance to her attempts to make "positive change" at the commission.

-- September 2007: Reilly writes a letter to Bowers informing him of Spagnoli's June 1, 2005, memo to the attorney general's office; he says he and the other commissioners learned of the memo two years after the fact, when it surfaced during a public records request.

-- June 2008: Bowers files suit in federal court in Georgia, seeking his release.

-- Fall 2008: Packets of documents are sent anonymously to The Washington Post and the Justice Department's inspector general. Inside are photocopies of letters showing that Reilly pushed public officials to improve the highway that connects his home town, Leavenworth, Kan., to the nearest urban center, Kansas City, Mo. Spagnoli's husband, William Woodruff, an assistant U.S. attorney in the District, later tells The Post that he was the source of the packages.

SOURCE: Washington Post reporting by Joe Stephens, based on legal filings, private documents, e-mails and interviews


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