Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

TOP STORY>>Parole upsets parents

Leader staff writer

The man responsible for a Sherwood teen’s death has been paroled over the objections of the teen’s parents and the prosecuting attorney’s office. In a 4 to 1 vote, the parole board voted Tuesday to release Michael R. Webb, 33. With the parole approved, Webb will be released in mid-December after serving less than 11 years of a 46-year sentence—40 years for first-degree murder and six years for first-degree assault.

Webb, who was 21 at the time, was one of four people convicted in the December 1993 shooting death of Jason Hatcher, 17, in the Harvest Food parking lot in Sherwood. Another person was shot in the knee during the shootout. Webb wasn’t convicted and jailed until early 1996 for his role in the shooting.

The Hatcher family is infuriated. “The system has gone crazy,” Jason’s father, Doug Hatcher, said. “The jury gave Webb 46 years, and the parole board reduced it to 11. Is that all my son is worth? Is that all that anyone’s son is worth? The parole board doesn’t value human life,” Hatcher said.

“If we, as citizens, don’t get a handle on this it will consume us all,” he added. “I can’t understand why people let the governor, who is the boss of the parole board, and the parole board, get away with this stuff time after time.” Hatcher said it’s his understanding that the parole board never even asked Webb if he did the shooting.

“My son was shot in the back. Murdered! The scale of justice has not been served for my son’s life,” Kathy Hatcher told the parole board in early August. She found out about the decision by calling the parole board and was so upset with the board’s decision that she couldn’t talk about it Tuesday.

“Webb could have killed a lot more than just my son,” Hatcher said. “Webb’s rifle held about 17 rounds, but jammed after about four shots,” he said. The prosecution never tried to show specifically who killed Hatcher, but convicted all four teens involved in the shooting under the accomplice-liability law. But all testimony and evidence point to Webb as Hatcher’s killer.
The Hatcher family, friends and others opposed to Webb’s release met with the parole board on Aug. 9. A week later the board traveled to the state prison facility and listened to Webb and his family and friends as to why he should be released.
“It’s a shame that the board is releasing him,” said Pulaski County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson. “I hate it for the victim’s family.”

Johnson was among those at the Aug. 9 hearing opposing the release, but no one from the prosecuting attorney’s office was allowed to participate in the hearing of Webb and his family. “I wish we could have been there. Webb’s mother has made some statements to the board that just weren’t true and we couldn’t refute them,” Johnson said. He was made aware of the statements in letters from the parole board.

“It’s not about us or about justice. It’s about managing beds. It’s about a system ready to explode,” Doug Hatcher said back in early August. Webb asked for clemency in 2004, and the board voted 3-to-2 in favor of it. Hatcher said it was “all done behind closed doors.” He said they didn’t get to present their side, but when Kathy Hatcher got through showing the clemency board all the facts, one of the members changed his vote, and the clemency was eventually denied.

“They told her they had doubts and questions that Webb was even involved,” Hatcher explained. “We sat through four court trials. We knew,” he said. Kathy Hatcher went to the courthouse and pulled the transcripts—almost 6,000 pages—and copied and highlighted all the testimony that showed Webb was the killer, Doug Hatcher explained.

“When she went there, she found out that no one had ever looked at the files,” Doug Hatcher said. “How can the board make a decision like that and not look at the transcripts?” he asked. According to Leader articles and police reports at the time, there was a fight in the Harvest Foods parking lot. Jason and others, who were at Taco Bell, came over to see what was going on.

James Gross, Tim McGarity and others were fighting. About that time a car pulled up with Webb, Chad Jones and Jason Carter. Carter had a pistol and was firing it in the air as the vehicle pulled in. John Johnson, a Pulaski County assistant prosecutor, said apparently the pistol was passed around between Carter, Gross and Jones.

McGarity ended up shot in the knee. Shortly thereafter someone got a rifle out from the trunk of the car and began firing. “By this time, Johnson said, “everyone was running away and Jason was shot in the back. The bullet went completely through him.”

Johnson said the investigation found that Webb left the crime scene and went to the home of some friends. He walked in carrying his rifle and bragging. Kathy Hatcher told the parole board that “Webb bragged to his friends by saying ‘I think I got one’ or ‘I think I shot one’ and that the worst part was he ‘had to throw his taco down.’”

The rifle was found in Webb’s home. Carter, 18 at the time of the shooting and from Little Rock, was found guilty of first-degree murder, battery and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 60 years on the murder count, 30 years for battery and 10 years for the assault, all to run concurrently. He was paroled in March 2005.

“His release was the only one we didn’t protest because we felt he was just a gopher in the whole incident, and the only one to really show remorse,” Doug Hatcher said. Jones, 22 at the time and from Cabot, was found guilty of first-degree murder and battery. He was given 32 years on the murder charges and five years for the battery, to run concurrently. He was paroled in August 2004.

Gross, 19 at the time and from Gravel Ridge, was found not guilty of murder, but was convicted of battery and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to six years on each charge, to run concurrently. He was the first to be paroled, in December 1996. Jason was the youngest of the Hatchers three children and his death affected the whole family. “It’s just not something you ever get over,” Kathy Hatcher said.