One evening last October, David Allen Simpkins walked into a gas station in Pulaski County, pointed a gun at the cashier and demanded all the money in the register.
This robbery was different from other robberies in two ways. First, a customer intervened and, despite getting pistol-whipped, inflicted such severe injuries on Simpkins that for a time it was unclear whether he would survive.
He did, and last month had his day in court, where the other remarkable fact about this case came out: At the time of the robbery, Simpkins was out on parole.
The Virginia Parole Board has been in the news since last spring and not in good ways. First came the controversial release of Vincent Martin who had been sentenced to life in prison for killing a Richmond police officer in 1979. Then came a state inspector general’s report that found the parole board violated both the law and a long list of procedures in releasing Martin.
Inspector General Michael Westfall found that the parole board a) did not notify the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney in the required time about Martin’s impending parole, b) did not “endeavor diligently” — the legal requirement — to notify the victim’s family, and c) did not allow the victim’s family, once it learned of the upcoming parole, to meet with the parole board in accordance with the board’s own policies.
Then came other controversial releases, a broader investigation that found violations of law and policy in the release of at least eight other convicted killers, the firing of the lead investigator and the revelation that the parole board chair emailed a staffer to say: “Wave that wand of power, and let’s cut them loose. There needs to be a silver lining to all this! Give me more!!!”
Actually, that’s not all, the Richmond Times-Dispatch discovered that on the parole board chair’s last day on the job, she released more than 100 parolees from supervision without any recommendations from local parole officers and — and recently it’s been reported that the former parole board chair, now a judge, is on a mysterious leave of absence.
All this adds up to a scandal that has Republicans salivating — and should have Democrats worried as they go into the fall elections.
But wait! There’s more!
The more is the aforementioned case of one David Allen Simpkins of New Castle. The astonishing fact that came out in court wasn’t simply that Simpkins was on parole when he held up that gas station — he had previously been convicted of, wait for it, 56 felonies.
We’re all for giving people second chances but here the parole board gave Simpkins a 57th chance.
Let’s take a look at Simpkins’ record. He racked up all those convictions from a crime spree that began in Wythe County in December 1986 with two fraud charges and ended on February 1990 in Rockbridge County where he picked somebody’s pocket. Over that time he racked up convictions in 10 different localities between Augusta County and Smyth County.
Simpkins showed a fondness for armed robbery — 14 such instances, which generally brought multiple charges, such as using a gun during the commission of a felony and wearing a mask.
In November 1989 he was convicted of two robberies in Pulaski County — sentenced to 30 years with 20 years suspended on one charge and 28 years to serve consecutively in another, meaning between the two he should have served 38 years on those two charges (10 years for the one robbery, 28 on the other). Based on that, he shouldn’t be getting out until 2027. (No, we can’t explain why he was sentenced for those charges on Nov. 20, 1989, yet was still out in February 1990. That’s just one of many mysteries about this case.)
Other charges were more serious. Simpkins was found guilty of abduction with intent to defile in Botetourt County and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was also found guilty of forcible sodomy in Botetourt County and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Not long afterward, a court in Augusta County convicted Simpkins of robbery and sentenced him to 40 years in prison — 26 to be served concurrently with the Botetourt time for forcible sodomy and 16 to be served consecutively, which ought to add up to 76 years in prison.
Based on that, Simpkins shouldn’t be getting out until 2066.
And yet on Sept. 5, 2019, the parole board notified the prosecutor in Pulaski County that Simpkins would be released on parole five days later, on Sept. 10. That’s five days’ notice — not the 21 business days required by law.
Because parole board decisions are essentially secret, we don’t know why the board (which includes Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea) decided Simpkins merited parole. Perhaps he was a model prisoner who, by his late 50s, showed contrition for crimes committed when he was in his 20s.
If Simpkins had come home and stayed out of trouble, you could argue that the parole board made the right call — even a conservative call, because releasing him spares taxpayers the expense of his upkeep. But the parole board’s decision was clearly and demonstrably wrong because Simpkins went right back to his old ways.
The Pulaski County robbery — foiled by what authorities called “a brave Samaritan” — isn’t Simpkins’ only new charge. He’s also racked up 28 other charges in four other localities plus a probation violation in Wythe County. In all, that’s 30 charges after Simpkins got out on parole.
If that customer had not risked his own life to thwart the Pulaski robbery who knows what might have happened?
We will let behavioral therapists speculate about what leads a man to do these things. Ultimately our concern here today isn’t crime but politics — specifically the politics of the parole board.
Democrats are making a grievous political mistake by acting as if the parole board scandal isn’t happening.
They apparently think they’ve done enough by authorizing $250,000 for an outside law firm — picked by Attorney General Mark Herring — to investigate how the inspector general handled one of the controversial parole cases.
They haven’t, as they will soon find out to their chagrin. Ironically, the one Democrat who has inoculated himself is Pulaski’s commonwealth’s attorney, Justin Griffith, who prosecuted Simpkins’ latest offense. He persuaded the judge to sentence Simpkins to 22 years and blasted the parole board in the process: “Simpkins should never have had the opportunity to come to this county.” He’s got that right.