Domestic abuse victim Glenda Virgil is freed
On June 25, California law will finally provide some measure of justice for Glenda Virgil. After a lifetime of abuse and nearly three decades in prison, she will be a free woman.
Virgil was victimized by virtually every important man in her life: her father molested her from infancy; her older brother sexually abused her as a young girl; as an adult, she was involved with a series of physically and sexually abusive men. After four years of beatings, stabbings and sexual abuse from her boyfriend, Virgil summoned the courage to leave. But he would not allow it. He locked her in a shed, beat her and threatened to kill her. When he came at her with a shovel, she shot him once and killed him.
Prior to her 1987 trial, two experts concluded that Virgil suffered from battered woman syndrome and had a reasonable fear for her life at the time of the crime. But the jury convicted her of second-degree murder without benefit of that expert testimony - without any evidence that she had ever been abused. In 1991, too late for Virgil, the Legislature adopted Section 1107 of the California Evidence Code requiring that such evidence be admitted at trial.
Two additional experts, including the state Board of Prison Terms' own battered woman syndrome expert, subsequently examined Vigil and agreed that she suffered from the effects of battering and feared for her life when she shot the victim. But nine times in the last 14 years, the board has rejected her account of the crime and denied her parole under existing law.
In September 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the "Sin by Silence" legislation I authored into law. The law requires the parole board to give "great weight" to evidence that the prisoner experienced intimate partner battering at the time of the crime. Virgil's attorneys petitioned for a new hearing under my law and on May 10, the board granted Virgil parole. For the first time in nearly 30 years, Virgil received the benefit of serious consideration of the role that battering played in her crime.
University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Project has represented Virgil for more than 14 years. Julia Deixler handled Virgil's parole hearing last August, where the board denied parole because Virgil had possessed tobacco in prison, and at her most recent hearing, where Virgil was finally granted parole. Sadly, Virgil may not have much time left to enjoy her freedom. Last fall she was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. She is frail, bald and confined to a wheelchair.
The overwhelming majority of the 11,000 women incarcerated in California state prisons are survivors of domestic abuse. Hundreds are serving life terms for defending themselves and their children from an abusive partner, or for failing to protect their children from their batterer's abuse, or for crimes their batterers forced them to commit. USC law students have secured release on parole for nearly 60 deserving women in California.
Even though her release is a victory for Virgil, there are still many victims/inmates for whom we need to advocate, who are blocked from release by unjust minor rule violations like smoking cigarettes in prison or for "lacking insight" for their committed offense. How long is long enough?
Fiona Ma is the former speaker pro tem of the California Assembly.