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Woman seeking law change after husband's killer gets out of prison more than 6 years early

Posted at 6:53 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 10:46:54-04

CASEY COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Casey County mom, Meaghan Clements, said she feels as though the criminal justice system has failed her.

Seven years ago her husband, Michael Beal, was killed in a car crash.

"One day me and him and my mom went to eat at a restaurant and then 5 minutes later he drives down the road and he's gone," Clements said.

Marvin Jeff Lee was convicted for killing Beal. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for second-degree manslaughter and DUI in 2017, but he got out in July 2021.

Clements was notified that he would be released early when a letter came in the mail.

After spending less than four years behind bars, Lee would be let out of prison.

"It's an absolute slap in the face," Clements said. "That just tells me that his life is just not worth it to those people."

How did Lee get out more than six years early?

According to Kentucky statutes, inmates convicted of non-violent crimes, which is the case for second-degree manslaughter, are eligible for sentencing credits.

The Commonwealth's Attorney who prosecuted the case, Brian Wright, wanted to see how Lee's credits could add up to more than six years, so he filed a public records request with the Department of Corrections.

It showed that Lee got three years, three months, and 17 days off for good behavior. The technical terms are statutory and meritorious good time.

He also received one year, nine months, and 25 days off for program completion credits, such as getting his GED, a substance abuse program, and an anger management program.

He also received five months and 17 days off for working a job while in prison.

Lastly, he was released nine months early on mandatory re-entry supervision, which is a supervised transition back into society.

"When you add all of those things, it's frustrating to our office, it's frustrating to victims," Wright said.

At the same time, he said Lee did what he was supposed to do in prison. He was well behaved. He took courses that were available and will help him reintegrate into the community.

However, he said he believes the amount of time inmates can shave off is too much.

"The Legislature has empowered the Department of Corrections to go too far in awarding program completion credits," he said.

He believes the Legislature needs to change that and the definition of a violent crime. He said non-violent offenders have much more access to all of these credits as compared to violent offenders who must serve at least 80% of their sentences.

He believes second-degree manslaughter should be designated as violent.

Clements couldn't agree more.

"They hit so hard and so fast that the car, that engine, the entire front of the car was pushed in on him and if that doesn't say violence then I don't know what that would be," she said.

Marvin Lee's attorney acknowledges what happened was a tragedy, but he also believes Lee deserved to get out when he did.

"I am not taking nor am I attempting to take away from the victim in this case, nor is Mr. Lee," Griffith said in an interview. "But if you're asking me if I think the purpose of the criminal justice system is served by these sentencing credits, you're speaking to someone who philosophically believes that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate."

After speaking to Lee, he said that purpose has been served.

He also believes the Legislature got it right when they designated second-degree manslaughter as non-violent.

"The distinction between this type of incident and intentional murder, there needs to be a distinction there," he said. "Those two are very different scenarios."

Clements, however, is looking to change the law and make second-degree manslaughter a violent crime in Kentucky. She said she is working with a lawmaker to make it happen and hopefully keep other families from experiencing her pain.

"I was just 25," she said. "I wasn't supposed to bury my husband then".