Meriden murder case put early prison release program under scrutiny

Meriden murder case put early prison release program under scrutiny


The arrest of Frankie Resto for the murder of Ibrahim Ghazal in 2012 put early release credits for prisoners under intense scrutiny and led to changes, though some say the changes didn’t go far enough.

Resto, who had served 91 percent of a six-year, three-month sentence for armed robbery earned 199 days of credits and was eligible for parole in May 2011 but was denied. In February of 2012 he was granted parole but the state Department of Correction had trouble verifying information about a sponsor. Although they still hadn’t confirmed his sponsor’s information, correction officials had to release Resto in April 2012 because his sentence had been shortened by the early release credits, and he began probation. His full sentence would have run through October 2012.

“The Risk Reduction Credits not only let him out early, it mandated his release on probation,” said former state Sen. Leonard Suzio of Meriden.

The difference between probation and parole are many. Probation is supervised by the state Judicial Branch, whereas parole is supervised by the Department of Corrections.

The differences in Resto’s case are hard to ignore. As a condition in his probation for the 2006 armed robbery, Resto had to take part in drug and alcohol evaluation and faced re-arrest if he did not attend sessions or used drugs.

Resto violated that probation when he tested positive for marijuana, opiates and cocaine in May 2012 and failed to attend a drug program. The results of the drug test were reported to probation officials on June 22, 2012 and they applied for an arrest warrant, which was signed June 28, one day after the murder.

Had Resto been on parole when the drug test came back positive, he would have been arrested and returned to prison without a warrant.

But Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said Resto served more time than most criminals for his crimes.

Prior to the horrific Cheshire home invasion where two career criminals killed a mother and her two daughters in 2007, most criminals like Resto could have been released from prison after serving even less than 85 percent of their sentence.

Changes to the laws meant stiffer sentences and more difficulty getting parole. The risk reduction credit program that mandated Resto’s release offered incentives for inmates to take part in programs designed to help them adjust after release, making them less likely to commit a new crime and return to jail, Lawlor said. The credits, which were retroactive, could also be rescinded should a prisoner violate prison rules and regulations.

“Violent offenders like Resto are doing a lot more time,” Lawlor said. “He was a high-risk guy, and held longer than other prisoners in the past.”

The laws governing Risk Reduction Credits were changed last year to ensure that violent criminals would serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before applying the risk reduction credits. The law was added onto legislation that governed gun safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook school killings. It did not affect a prisoner’s eligibility for parole or probation.

“I consider that to be totally meaningless,” said Suzio, who accompanied the Ghazal family to Resto’s sentencing Friday. “It’s primary reform is to mandate 85 percent? That’s not reform.”

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, had also grown close to the Ghazal family in the wake of the tragedy. She introduced a bill that would have excluded prisoners who committed certain types of crimes from earning any early release credits. After discussions with leaders from both sides of the aisle, the General Assembly passed the 85 percent sentence law for violent offenders or threats of violence.

“I had submitted a proposal that would have taken it further,” Bartolomeo said. “This is significant for some criminals, so we shored that up.”

Bartolomeo said she supported Resto’s sentence Friday and felt pain for the family.

“But I’m encouraged, there’s no possible way he can be eligible for any type of parole until he’s 83 years old,” Bartolomeo said. (203) 317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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