INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – An Indianapolis man accused of killing his wife on Sunday would still have been in prison under new state sentencing guidelines adopted this year. Tony Degrafreed, 50, served less than 13 years behind bars for murdering his first wife in 1994.
The Marion County Coroner said Rebecca Degrafreed, 47, died from blunt force traumatic injuries to her head and neck. She also suffered stab wounds to her neck.
Degrafreed was found dead in her bedroom on Sunday morning. Her husband, Degrafreed, was arrested about a mile down the street from their home for her murder.
Degrafreed was also convicted of killing his first wife more than 20 years ago. 26-year-old Stacy Degrafreed died in January of 1994 during a domestic dispute with her husband. Two other people were also shot during the incident.
Degrafreed pleaded guilty to murder and carrying a handgun without a license in March of 1995. In exchange, two additional counts of attempted murder were dropped.
He was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison. But, he was granted parole in July of 2006, after just 12 years behind bars.
So, why was he released so soon?
For decades, Indiana offered a policy known as “good time credit.” In short, the policy offered inmates a 50 percent reduction, day for day, on their sentence for good behavior. Degrafreed earned every one of those days, automatically cutting his 30 year sentence in half.
According to IDOC records, he also received 403 days of jail credit while awaiting acceptance of his plea deal, 6 months credit for completion of a GED program, 1 year credit for completion of a high school diploma program, and one year credit for completion of an associate’s degree program.
Add that up, and his 30-year sentence was cut by nearly a two-thirds. But, the Indiana Department of Corrections is quick to point out that Degrafreed was not released early.
“The state legislature has enacted legislation that provides offenders potential incentives to reduce their length of imprisonment,” IDOC Chief Communications Officer Doug Garrison told I-Team 8. “Degrafreed took advantage of those time cut programs. IDOC had no discretion in deciding whether or not to grant the credit time. He was released at exactly the time the legislature envisioned when it implemented the statutory scheme providing earning credit time.”
Degrafreed has no “conduct history”—or behavioral problems—in prison, Garrison said. He was released on parole in 2006 and recorded no conduct history for the following two years. He was released from parole in 2008.
CHANGING THE LAW
Public pressure over sentence reductions for violent offenders helped spark legislators to pass new sentencing reform earlier this year. The new sentencing guidelines took effect on July 1.
They will result in longer sentences for violent felons. But, they were not the law’s main targets.
“The focus of the legislature, and it was a 2-3 year effort, was to take minor offenses like theft and drugs and try to keep those people in community corrections, and not in prison for long periods of time,” said IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law Professor Joel Schumm. “But, [legislators] also took the more serious crimes like murder and attempted murder and now have people serve 75 percent of the time instead of half of it.”
Sentence reduction duration for educational credit time will also be lowered for many high level felons, and minimum sentences for murder are up as well.
“Now, in a sentence for murder, the minimum would be 45 years, and someone would have to do 75 percent of that,” Schumm said. “If the sentencing range were in effect then, [Degrafreed] wouldn’t have been out. There’s no question about that.”
Under the new guidelines, Degrafreed would have been eligible for parole beginning in 2027.
Still, concerns remain that the new sentencing guidelines will not immediately solve one of the biggest problems facing Indiana: prison overcrowding.
“Indiana incarcerates more people, per capita, than anywhere in the world,” said Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner. “Most people don’t realize that. And, it’s the reason behind this sentencing reform. The Department of Correction is looking for any way to relieve itself of overcrowding. So, you’re getting releases that oftentimes make everyone scratch their heads. And, it’s a function of that the prisons are just at capacity.”
That’s pushed some to call for plans to build a new prison.
But Stoner—and others—aren’t yet sold.
They argue longer lockups alone won’t stop criminals from re-offending.