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Parole board says no to parole of killer and no to more chances; Bevin commuted death sentence

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter
Gregory Wilson, who was sentenced to death after being convicted in 1988 of kidnapping raping and killing Deborah Pooley of Covington but had his sentence reduced by former Gov. Matt Bevin to make him eligible for parole, has to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Kentucky Parole Board decided Monday that Wilson, now 67, must serve out the remainder of his time in prison. He will never get another chance for parole.

Gregory Wilson (Photo provided)

The board had three options to deal with Wilson: recommend he be released from prison, designate a specific number of months he must serve before being considered again for parole, or decide if he must serve out the remainder of his time in prison.

“I finally feel that justice has been served,” said Joe Heil, who employed the victim at a Barleycorn’s sports bar in Newport.

Heil also said he hopes the “wrong Bevin made shortly before he lost to Gov. Andy Beshear and left office will be corrected” with a bill in this year’s Kentucky General Assembly.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, is proposing a constitutional amendment in Senate Bill 126WW that would suspend the governor’s power to issue pardons or sentence commutations from 30 days before a gubernatorial election until the fifth Tuesday after an election, the day of the gubernatorial inauguration.

Joe Heil (File photo)

McDaniel filed the legislation after reading about Wilson.

Wilson, an inmate at the Kentucky State Reformatory, went before the full five-member parole board Monday morning. Two members of the board heard his case last week but decided that the issue should go to the full board.

Wilson initially received a death sentence but former Gov. Bevin commuted it before he left office in 2019 to life with the possibility of parole.

It was one of several controversial pardons and commutations Bevin issued in his last days as governor that helped sink his chances for re-election in 2019 to Beshear.

Wilson’s case had been appealed several times but the death sentence was upheld until Bevin commuted it.

Bevin’s reduction of Wilson’s sentence angered many of Pooley’s family members and friends.

Bevin said he agreed to the commutation because he was convinced that Wilson had inadequate legal representation.

Former Gov. Matt Bevin

Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders strongly disagreed and worked to keep Wilson in prison.

He noted that Wilson had spent 12 years in an Ohio prison, prior to the rape and murder of Pooley. He had been released from prison less than a month when he abducted Pooley.

While in custody for Pooley’s rape and murder, Wilson pleaded guilty to 13 counts of rape in Ohio.

Two sisters who are nieces of Pooley also tried to make sure Wilson remains in jail. Sanders said they have asked the media not to identify them because they fear for their safety if Wilson is released.

Also, an online petition gathered more than 6,600 signatures, asking that Wilson not be paroled.

Brenda Humphrey, Wilson’s girlfriend and co-conspirator in Pooley’s murder, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. She was paroled in April 2017 after serving 28 years behind bars.

Testimony in the trial revealed that Wilson raped and strangled Pooley death while Humphrey drove them all to Indiana.

Rob Sanders (file photo)

The decomposed remains of Pooley, a 36-year-old restaurant manager, were found two weeks later in a field about 20 miles west of Indianapolis. She also had been robbed.

Employer Heil said he knew Pooley for about two years.

“She was very vibrant, smiled a lot. She would take on a lot of responsibilities at the bar.

“We were stressful when she went missing for two weeks.”

Heil said he still remains upset with Bevin’s reduction of prison sentences for several inmates, especially Wilson. He said he will support Sen. McDaniel’s legislation to curb the power of a governor to reduce sentences close to an election.

Heil also said the work of Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders should be praised “for doing all he could to make sure justice was carried out.”

Sanders, in a statement, said, “Keeping Gregory Wilson in prison for the rest of his life will keep Kentuckians safe from this serial rapist and killer. I hope Deborah Pooley’s nieces get the peace of mind they deserve knowing they took up their grandparents’ fight for justice and won.

“I appreciate the parole board righting Matt Bevin’s wrong.”

Debbie Pooley’s family made this statement to the NKyTribune:

“Debbie’s friends and family are extremely grateful to the citizens of Kentucky and others across the country who helped to correct the reckless actions that Governor Bevin took in 2019 when he gave a death row convicted and admitted serial rapist and murderer the chance at parole. He faced no accountability to the public for his actions and we thank the parole board for requiring that Wilson serve out his life sentence. We’re also very pleased that Senator Chris McDaniel introduced Senate Bill 149, a law to prevent this from happening to any other families in Kentucky by not allowing 11th hour pardons and commutations. To us, it will always be known as “Debbie’s Law” and we’re thankful something positive came out of her tragic death. After 36 years and 8 months, we finally have closure and justice for Debbie.” 

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