Whittle: Parole hearings were public

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The Tennessee Board of Parole, through the agency’s communications director, has requested a clarification following a recent column regarding Nashville radio personality “King” David Haley going to his grave in early May while still wanting David “Stringbean” Akeman’s confessed murderer, John Brown, to remain in prison for life.

On a cold winter night, Nov. 10, 1973, cousins John Brown and Doug Brown drove to Stringbean’s rural cabin on the outskirts of Nashville, planning to rob the entertainer, who was known to not trust banks.

Instead, they shot and killed Mr. Akeman when the performer tried to defend himself upon entering the cabin. After fatally wounding the country music comedic/banjo playing icon, they walked out in the yard, and executed the entertainer’s wife, Estelle Akeman, gangland style, shooting her in the back of the head as she begged for her life.
In trials, both Browns accused the other of being the triggerman.

Both Browns confessed to the crimes and were sentenced to 99 years each in prison. Doug Brown died in 2003 while still incarcerated. Since then, John Brown has been turned down for parole multiple times.

In “King” David’s last interview given to me before his death in early May following a stroke, he stated his opinion the parole board had acted out of public view when two parole board member votes had been cast back in 2008 when John Brown came up for parole consideration.

“Parole hearings are open meetings under Tennessee law, and Mr. Brown’s hearings always include representation from both victims and supporters of Mr. Brown,” Parole Board Communications Director Melissa McDonald verified in communique to Courier newspaper Publisher Ron Fryar. “At the 2008 hearing, which I attended, there were several people there in support of the Akemans, including Ms. Jan Howard. People attending in support or opposition to a parole are always given the opportunity to speak, and several did. So, there was public input at the hearing.

“There were two votes that year (2008) to parole the offender (Brown), but four concurring votes are required for a decision in a murder case,” Mrs. McDonald clarified. “That year, there were four concurring votes to deny parole, and the offender remained incarcerated.”

When the confessed murderer came up for parole again in April 2014, a psychiatric evaluation of Brown was ordered.
“The board did vote to obtain a psychiatric evaluation of Brown’s propensity for violent acts,” the parole board spokeswoman explained. “But it is simply a tool in helping to determine if a person is a suitable candidate for a parole.

“The board orders psych evaluations in some cases. It could show that an offender is a good candidate for parole,” Mrs. McDonald added. “It could also show that an offender is not a good candidate. So (ordering a psychiatric evaluation) shouldn’t be viewed as either a positive or negative for an offender’s parole chances.”

The parole board is scheduled to continue the Brown hearing in October, after the psychiatric report comes back. With that clarification, Mrs. McDonald invited me, as a newspaper columnist, to attend that hearing. If my schedule and health permits, I will attend that hearing.

Each time Brown has come up for parole consideration, multiple people within Nashville’s country music community have bombarded the parole board with communiques (letters, emails and phone calls) and testified during hearings to keep the prisoner behind bars. A former parole board chairman has confirmed publicly: “More than 450 wrote the board to oppose Brown’s release.”

Grand Ole Opry member Jan Howard is one of those opposed to Brown’s possible release. She spoke to the board: “I don’t want to see him (Brown) have another breath of fresh air. It was not a robbery gone bad, a burglary gone bad. It was premeditated.”

And Opry star “Whispering” Bill Anderson has also been one of those speaking out loudest against Brown’s parole.
On April 23, 2014, Brown, via teleconference, spoke before the board to ask for his release, claiming he has been “reformed” during his 40-plus years in prison. The convicted murderer told the board he knows he can never make up for his horrible crime.

Brown’s wife and a Nashville preacher have been among those in support of Brown’s release.

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Dan Whittle
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