Array of people supported Mississippi killer's parole

JACKSON – The director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, a judge, sheriff and circuit clerk in Kentucky were among those who supported the parole of Douglas Hodgkin, a convicted killer released from prison last month.

Hodgkin, 43, was convicted in 1987 of capital murder in the death of Jean Elizabeth Gillies, a University of Mississippi student who was raped, sodomized and strangled in 1986. He was released April 13 after serving 21 years, creating a furor in Mississippi and prompting state lawmakers to make changes in the parole system.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown sent at least two letters on agency letterhead supporting Hodgkin’s parole, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request. The letters in Hodgkin’s Parole Board file date back as far as 1996 and coincide with the years he was eligible for parole.

In letters dated Nov. 16, 2004 and May 1, 2006, Brown describes himself as a former elected official, current head of a state agency and “close friend of Douglas Hodgkin’s father, Will, a gentleman of utmost integrity with the highest moral character.”

Will Hodgkin was a successful banker in central Kentucky. He did not respond to a message left at his home. Douglas Hodgkin’s number was not listed.

James S. Chenault, a retired circuit court judge in Kentucky, supported Hodgkin’s parole in a 2002 letter that said: “Hodgkin is the scion of one of the most prominent families in Clark County (if not also in central Kentucky).”

The letter, which was written on court letterhead with the handwritten word “retired” near the top, says, in part, “what’s happened has happened. At some time, the book must be closed and everyone must get on with their lives.”

The letter also quotes a Bible verse, saying Chenault can’t fault the victim’s family for opposing release and asks: “What punishment would be sufficient to satisfy these people … their ‘pound of flesh?'”

Chenault did not respond to a message left at his home.

Gillies’ was attacked at her Oxford apartment Oct. 22, 1986. Hodgkin, of Winchester, Ky., had been in a relationship with the 24-year-old woman, who was eight weeks pregnant. Hodgkin was sentenced to life. At that time, however, life sentences came with a chance for parole.

Bill Gillies, the victim’s brother, said if Hodgkin kills again the people who helped him walk out of prison will “have blood on their hands.”

“This case was never about justice,” he said. “This case was always about politics.”

Brown, the MDOT chief and former Natchez mayor, wrote that he was “acutely aware of the horrible crime Douglas committed” but he “has been adequately punished” and “serving additional jail time will serve no useful purpose.”

In a telephone interview, Brown said he still believes in second chances.

“I don’t know the Hodgkins, I only know a friend of theirs who was our consultant on the bridge replacement on the Mississippi Gulf Coast … and as I recall they weren’t trying to get him paroled, they were trying to get him relocated to Kentucky.”

Brown’s letter, however, said “Douglas Hodgkin deserves an opportunity to be paroled.”

It also says Brown was a “close friend” of Hodgkin’s father. Brown now says “that’s a stretch. I’m not a close personal friend, I think I met him once.”

“I don’t think I even wrote the letter to be honest with you,” Brown said. “I think I just put it on my letterhead.”

He said he doesn’t know who may have composed the letter.

Brown has been the executive director of MDOT for eight years.

Former Clark County, Ky., Sheriff Gary O. Lawson wrote several letters over the years, including one on sheriff’s department letterhead and dated Nov. 15, 2004, after he retired. The word “retired” was handwritten next to the word sheriff. He did not immediately respond to a message left at his home Friday.

The file also contains letters Hodgkin wrote himself, and letters from people pleading that he remain behind bars.

“I hate that I am guilty of this senseless act,” Hodgkin wrote in 1996. “I now know and understand how great a loss Jeanie’s death is. After receiving so much mercy from God, I learned the goodness of helping others.”

Others, like Phil Bryant, who was state Auditor at the time and now is Mississippi’s lieutenant governor, opposed the release.

“I trust we will not allow a sexual predator and murderer back on the streets,” Bryant wrote in December 2000.

“I stand by that position,” Bryant said Friday. “Violence touched my family in 1981 with the death of my aunt. Her death is something we live with each day.”

Another letter, written by a funeral home worker who prepared Gillies’ body, said she “saw first hand the remains of what this man done to this beautiful young woman.”

“Please allow Douglas Hodgkin to remain in prison where he belongs for the remainder of his life.”

Hodgkin moved back to Winchester, Ky., after being released and registered as a sex offender.

 

Chris Talbott/The Associated Press