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Victims given voice in parole board event

Staff Photo: Camie Young Gwinnett Chief Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner addresses victims who participated Thursday in the State Board of Pardons and Paroles Victims VIsitors' Day in Lawrenceville, allowing crime victims to meet with those who decide if offenders are granted parole.

Staff Photo: Camie Young Gwinnett Chief Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner addresses victims who participated Thursday in the State Board of Pardons and Paroles Victims VIsitors' Day in Lawrenceville, allowing crime victims to meet with those who decide if offenders are granted parole.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A few months ago, Kay Pierce received a letter in the mail and it chilled her to the bone.

The man who murdered her granddaughter 21 years ago was up for parole.

"It brings it all back," Pierce said. "I was not prepared for the emotions that came out."

The parole was denied, but Pierce woke up early Thursday, dressed and drove from the mountains in Cleveland, Ga. to Lawrenceville to try to make sure he stayed in prison.

"I'm a Christian and you say you forgive him, but when someone asks if you want to see him walking on the streets again, I don't want that," Pierce said of Kenny Hardwick, who was convicted in a highly publicized case of killing his 7-month-old daughter Haley in 1992.

But his other daughter, the baby born after her sister's death, is a happy, well-adjusted young woman, and it is because of that child, Hope, that Pierce came to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center Thursday.

She didn't have an appointment, but District Attorney Danny Porter said she could be squeezed into during the day-long set of appointments of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles Victims Visitors' Day.

All five members of the board traveled to Lawrenceville for appointments with more than 65 victims, who had questions or concerns about the person who had done them wrong.

"It's about you having a voice and hearing your voice," said Chief Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner, who admitted that victims often feel neglected during the judicial process. "We hope that today ... that you are informed and that you feel like you are heard."

Porter said he has seen a change in the respect for victims over his career.

"We've come to recognize that crime is a personal issue," he said, adding that he became friends with the parents of murder victim Randy Beck, and he personally writes letters every Jan. 21, the anniversary of Beck's 1992 death, to encourage the state board to keep Charles Thomas White III in prison.

"That family's voice has been heard," he said of Beck's parents, who died last year. "That person remains in prison, where I hope he will remain and never draw a free breath."

Terry Barnard, a former legislator from south Georgia who serves on the parole board, said he knew many people came Thursday with photos and memories of their loved ones, with tears and fears in their heart. And he promised what they said would be considered in the board's decisions.

"We will listen. We sill attempt to absorb that pain. We will attempt to absorb that sorrow," he said. "Your voice is so important, and it does resonate. It is very loud."

As Barnard described a new program, which allows victims to confront their offender, asking questions about how or why a crime was committed, Pierce took notes.

She worked at a prison for several years after Haley's death, and she has heard both sides of too many tales of woe, but as afraid as she is of the man's potential influence on Hope, she isn't sure if she could stand to see him face-to-face.

"He never told us what happened, and he never told us he was sorry," she said, adding of the program, "I would really have to think and pray about that."