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Scales of justice

The Wyoming Board of Parole will consider commuting the sentence of an Evansville woman convicted of shooting her husband in his bed nearly 30 years after the crime, according to documents obtained by the Star-Tribune.

Rita A. Humphrey, 66, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2006. Her husband, Jack Humphrey, died from a single gunshot to the head. She was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison and has served nearly 12 years in Wyoming Women’s Center.

Because Wyoming requires prisoners to serve two-thirds of their sentences before they are eligible for parole, Rita Humphrey could be eligible to be released in 2019 if her sentence is shortened by five years, as she is requesting.

After serving 10 years in prison, an inmate can petition to be heard for a commutation, according to Ed Risha, parole board executive director.

A panel of three parole board members voted unanimously to have Humphrey’s petition heard June 11 by the full seven-member board, according to documents provided by the Board of Parole. Risha cautioned that the preliminary votes do not indicate how board members plan to vote in June.

A team of staff from the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk wrote a letter in March supporting Humphrey’s petition for a commutation hearing, according to documents provided by the Wyoming Department of Corrections. The letter states Humphrey earned a GED in prison, has not been disciplined during her incarceration and has been employed most of her time inside prison walls. The letter goes on to support a review of her petition.

The corrections department recommendation will be considered by the parole board along with testimony from Jack Humphrey’s family members and testimony from Rita Humphrey, according to a parole board letter sent to a person eligible to testify at the hearing. Sentencing Judge Thomas Sullins and District Attorney Mike Blonigen will also be allowed to present information and opinion to the parole board, Risha said.

Blonigen said Friday afternoon that he had not yet received a letter from the parole board but that he anticipates opposing Humphrey’s request.

The prosecutor said he had anticipated Humphrey would be a good prisoner from the day she was sentenced. He said rehabilitation is not the goal for murder incarceration, however. The goal in such cases is deterrence and the safety of the rest of society, Blonigen said.

“The problem here is this is pretty cold-blooded murder. You blow a man’s head off when he’s sleeping,” he said. “Murder convictions are about punishing people for doing one of the most serious crimes we have.”

If the parole board decides to recommend commutation for Humphrey, Gov. Matt Mead will then decide whether to shorten Rita Humphrey’s sentence. If the parole board or Mead decline the request, Humphrey could be eligible for parole in 2023, corrections department spokesman Mark Horan said.

The earliest possible release dates listed in this article are based on a calculation that takes into account credit for good time served. Wyoming law allows certain prisoners to receive credit for 15 days against their sentences for each month they serve. Horan cautioned that good time is not always awarded and the parole board has no obligation to release a person on parole simply because they are eligible for the early release.

When inmates are released on parole, the Department of Corrections continues to supervise them after they are let out of prison. Horan said that if Humphrey were released in 2023, she would remain under supervision until 2033 at the least.

If Humphrey’s petition is denied, she will not be eligible to petition again for commutation until 2023, Risha said.

The parole board hearing is the latest in a case that has taken significant turns since Jack Humphrey’s death in 1977.

Prosecutors initially considered the possibility Jack Humphrey had died by suicide. However in 1980, prosecutors filed a first-degree murder charge against Rita Humphrey.

Within months a Natrona County Circuit Court judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to arraign Humphrey and dismissed the case.

In 1996, Jack Humphrey’s sister, Bonnie Humphrey, was elected Evansville’s mayor. Zachary Gentile was hired as the town’s police chief three years later.

Gentile started reviewing the case soon after he was hired and by 2003 he was actively interviewing various witnesses connected with it. Prosecutors again filed a first-degree murder charge against Rita Humphrey in 2004.

A Natrona County District Court Judge dismissed the charge in December 2004, ruling that Humphrey’s right to a speedy trial was violated.

The Wyoming Supreme Court overturned that decision and a jury convicted Rita of second-degree murder. She did not testify at trial and maintained her innocence even as she was being sentenced.

Humphrey appealed her conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court alleging speedy trial and due process violations. In 2008, the court denied that appeal.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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