May 31, 2013

Parole is denied for jazz musician’s killer

Raymond L. Bledsoe, 51, must continue serving a life sentence for the 1980 killing of saxophonist Steve Harvey, according to the U.S. Parole Commission. His case now will be reviewed every two years.

Federal corrections authorities have denied parole for a man convicted of the racially motivated killing of jazz musician Steve Harvey in 1980.

The U.S. Parole Commission’s decision, announced Friday, means that Raymond L. Bledsoe, 51, must continue serving his life sentence. He is being held at a federal prison in Minnesota.

The commission now will review Bledsoe’s case every two years, said Johanna E. Markind, assistant general counsel for the panel.

Under rules in place at the time of Bledsoe’s sentencing in 1983, he became eligible for mandatory parole once he served 30 years of his life sentence. But to keep him locked up, the commission also had to find that he regularly violated prison rules or still was a threat to commit more crimes after his release.

Hope Hyder, the musician’s daughter, said the decision was appropriate and just.

“He had an opportunity to be released, but it was something he’s not ready for,” Hyder said. “I have a feeling of relief.”

Markind said the commission made its decision after reviewing information from Bledsoe’s parole hearing last month.

Bledsoe had been denied parole on at least three prior occasions.

Alvin Sykes, a friend of the slain musician and organizer of a 1980s campaign to keep the case alive in the community, said he was gratified by the commission’s ruling.

“That’s wonderful,” Sykes said. “The quality of justice in this case continues to go forward.”

Harvey, a 27-year-old saxophonist, died in November 1980 after being beaten with a baseball bat at Penn Valley Park.

A Jackson County jury acquitted Bledsoe of first-degree murder the next year. After a community outcry, federal authorities brought civil rights charges and then persuaded a Jefferson City jury that Bledsoe, who was white, had violated Harvey’s right to use the park simply because he was an African-American.

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