Brandon S. Brown, 36, (MDOC#111347) shot U.S. Marine Corps veteran James Sanders outside a nightclub in Portland in 2008, leaving Sanders paralyzed from the waist down.
That same year, Leo R. Hylton, 33, (MDOC#70199) brutally attacked the 10-year-old daughter of former Maine State Rep. William Guerrette Jr. in a violent home invasion that left both Guerrette and his daughter, Nicole, permanently disfigured.
Now, both Hylton and Brown have become the faces of a plan by lawmakers in Augusta to implement “restorative justice” practices in Maine, including two bills that would restore parole in Maine for the first time in nearly five decades.
Both Hylton and Brown appear to have followed the same path while incarcerated with the Maine Department of Corrections. They pursued advanced college degrees, kept on their best behavior, did some outreach to Maine’s sympathetic alternative media, and cozied up to Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos (I-Friendship), a top advocate for restoring parole in Maine.
Hylton earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Maine and a Master’s Degree in “conflict analysis” with a concentration in “social justice advocacy” from George Mason University.
Brown earned multiple degrees and was accepted into the George Mason PhD program, where he’ll soon complete a dissertation.
Hylton is now co-teaching a course at Colby College as a professor, while Brown mentors troubled youths at the Long Creek Youth Development Center.
Both are stumping for bills that would make it easier for well-behaved incarcerated individuals to earn early release from confinement.
Although Maine banned parole in 1976, it did expand the Supervised Community Confinement Program (SCCP) to include inmates with less than 30 months left on their sentences in 2021. Nonetheless, restorative justice advocates are backing two legislative efforts to expand early release for prisoners who have behaved themselves after getting locked up.
One is LD 720, a bill that emerged from a state legislative commission to study the issue of parole. That commission, unsurprisingly, wound up recommending that Maine reinstate parole as a matter or equity and racial justice.
The other is LD 178, a bill from Sen. Anne Beebe-Center (D-Knox) that Brown has been helping committee analysts write. That bill is just a concept draft, but it has the backing of House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor).
“This legislation will open an equitable avenue of responsible reentry that supports people returning to their communities from incarceration, providing that those who have been harmed are properly supported and that emphasis is put on public safety,” Beebe-Center said in her testimony.
She said the bill would create a seven-person parole board to which any inmate can apply after serving one-third of their sentence.
“We have all these incarcerated people who have had all sorts of challenges in their lives, and when we pair those challenges with desperate situations, some people felt they had no other place to turn to than crime,” she said. “There are all sorts of reasons why people commit crimes, but one of the larger causes is addiction. We know folks can recover from addiction with the right tools and support. Maine is held as a national example, and it’s time for us to continue to lead for other states to follow.”
Sen. Matt Harrington (R-York), the top Republican on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, opposes LD 178. He said Maine already has programs that can shorten sentences for model prisoners. He also said that bringing back parole, after individuals were sentenced in an environment without parole, was effectively modifying every criminal sentence in Maine.
“It’s basically changing your sentence,” he said. “With good time, you can already get out incredibly early.”
Harrington also noted one of the ironies in Democrats’ approach to restorative justice, as embodied by Beebe-Center’s work with Brown.
Namely: Beebe-Center is working with Brown, a violent firearms offender, to realize the early release of other violent firearms offenders at the same time she’s backing other gun control provisions that would impose rules on law abiding gun owners.
Bringing back parole would mean more for Hylton than Brown: Brown’s release date is this November, and he’s already been released into the community under SCCP, the first person in Maine to be released after the program was modified two years ago.
Hylton, who is currently incarcerated at a state facility, is not supposed to be released from prison until 2050, according to MDOC records.
The two men’s stories raise enduring questions about the nature of forgiveness and repentance, how society must handle the competing interests of justice and mercy, and what is owed to the victims of violent crime.
James Sanders, the Marine who was paralyzed when Brown shot him in a fit of anger, has suffered tremendously in the aftermath of that night in Portland.
According to a report from the Portland Phoenix, Sanders has contended with opioid addiction, the loss of a leg following an infection, and treatment after a suicide attempt. Despite this, Sanders has forgiven Brown and, in 2020, he supported Brown’s bid for clemency. (Gov. Janet Mills rejected that bid.)
Hylton does not have the forgiveness of his victims.
Guerette, Jr., did not respond to an email seeking comment on the parole bills, but in his most recent comments, the former lawmaker took a dim view of allowing Hylton and others like him early release.
“My life and the life of my daughter have been irreparably damaged by a brutal home invasion and attempted murder by machete at the hands of a name I have heard far too much today,” Guerette said, in testimony on LD 178, adding that his marriage of 33 years also dissolved as a result of the attack.
Guerette said LD 178 had several benefits for perpetrators of heinous violence, like Hylton, but nothing for the victims of violent crime, like him and his daughter.
“Where are these benefits and programs for me and my daughter?” he said.