By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
The family of the late state trooper Steve Hood apparently did not know the man deemed responsible for his death was due for release from prison.
Will Francis, 28, of Baldwyn, is free on the state’s “earned release supervision” program as of March 5, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ website.
Fifteen months ago, Hood’s widow, Lisa, appeared before the State Parole Board to oppose Francis’ release. One month later, the release was denied.
“I am definitely glad to get this behind me,” she said after that notification. “It is a big relief to know he will still be there for a while.”
“A while” equals a little over a year, in this case.
In October 2010, Francis pleaded guilty to felony fleeing from the trooper in May 2009. On a high-speed chase after Francis near his Guntown home, Hood was killed when his patrol car left the roadway and flipped repeatedly.
Francis was sentenced in a Pontotoc County hearing to 40 years with 33 years suspended.
“Earned release supervision” was established by the Legislature and the guidelines to decide who is eligible are set by the statute.
Neither Lisa Hood nor her son, Matthew, now a state trooper, could be contacted for comment. But the District Attorney’s Office reacted to the news of Francis’ release.
“We would have objected, if we had known about it,” said Paul Howell, a District Attorney’s Office spokesman. “We think he should have served his maximum time.”
Francis’ prosecution was handled by the previous administration of District Attorney John R. Young.
Howell said “earned release supervision,” which is decided by a classification committee, still constitutes MDOC custody and is not like parole. MDOC, which also can revoke ERS, says his tentative release date is Feb. 24, 2014.
An ERS inmate cannot leave the state, and must have stable employment, abstain from use of drugs or alcohol, pay required fees and court costs, and abide by the terms of his supervision, MDOC says.
If an inmate violates any conditions of ERS, the inmate must serve the remainder of his sentence in a facility.
Hood was killed when his patrol car flipped multiple times off the road as he chased Francis’ souped-up Trans-Am, modified with nitrous for racing.
Reports after the wreck said the vehicles were traveling in excess of 110 mph on Highway 370 near the Prentiss-Lee County line.
A law enacted the following year made illegal use of nitrous on Mississippi highways.
At issue also is whether Hood’s family was notified about Francis’ release. The Clarion-Ledger reported that his family was not notified.
Matthew Hood, it said, thought he had signed up for text and email alerts with VineLink.com, which is supposed to let victim’s families know when offenders are released.
Grace Simmons Fisher, MDOC spokeswoman, said she checked to see if any victims were to be notified when Francis was released from George County Regional Correctional Facility in Lucedale.
She said there were not.
“We have automated victim notification through the victim service division, and people can register in order to be notified of an offender’s whereabouts. We don’t have any registered victims for this offender,” she said. “I had that checked. We checked and double-checked.”
Steve Hood served as a state trooper from 1982 to 1985 in the Starkville district before transferring to the New Albany District, Troop F. He was a master sergeant from 2001 until his death.
He also was survived by twin daughters, his mother and five siblings.