On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 11, 2012 -
Before Judges Reisner and Harris.
Defendant William J. Thomas, Jr., appeals from a May 25, 2011 decision of the Parole Board imposing an eighty-four month future eligibility term (FET). Finding no abuse of the Board's discretion in determining the length of the FET, we affirm.
In 1980, when defendant was seventeen years old, he and his cousin abducted two other teenagers and beat them to death with rocks and a tire iron. The police investigation strongly suggested that defendant killed one of the victims, a fifteen-year-old girl, because she had rejected his sexual advances. After the murders, defendant fled to another state and enlisted in the military. He was stationed in Germany when he was finally apprehended for the murders and extradited to the United States. By that time, he had acquired a tattoo, "Kill With Skill."
Thomas pled non vult to two counts of murder and was sentenced to two concurrent life terms on February 19, 1982. His first parole hearing in 1995 resulted in the imposition of a ten-year FET. At the next two parole hearings, in 2001 and 2005, the Board imposed FETs of seven years.*fn1 This appeal arises from defendant's fourth parole hearing, in 2009, which resulted in the imposition of yet another seven-year (eighty-four month) FET.*fn2 In its decision, which the Board adopted, the Panel concluded that Thomas was still "unable to identify the causes of [his] crimnal behavior"; lacked "insight into [his] violent criminal personality characteristic"; had "failed to develop adequate and appropriate insight in recognizing issues that would return [him] to future criminal behavior"; and still failed "to demonstrate genuine remorse and empathy for [his] victims."
On this appeal, Thomas does not contend that the Board should have ordered his release on parole. Rather, he only challenges the length of the FET imposed. He asserts that the Board abused its discretion in setting a term longer than the twenty-seven months that is ordinarily the maximum FET imposed, unless the Board finds grounds to impose a longer term. See N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.21(a)(1), -3.21(d). Appellant argues that because he was seventeen when he committed the murders and had been infraction-free the entire twenty-eight years of his imprisonment at the time of the Board's decision, a shorter FET was warranted.
Our review of the Board's decision is very limited. We must defer to the agency's expertise and will affirm so long as its decision is not arbitrary and capricious. See Puchalski v. N.J. State Parole Board, 104 N.J. Super. 294, 300 (App. Div.), aff'd o.b., 55 N.J. 113 (1969), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 938, 90 S. Ct. 1841, 26 L. Ed. 2d 270 (1970). We have reviewed the entire record, including the Adult Panel's eleven page written decision denying parole, which the Board adopted, as well as the confidential appendix the Board filed on this appeal. Based on that review, we conclude that the Board's decision is supported by sufficient credible evidence and is neither arbitrary nor capricious.
We also find no merit in defendant's statutory arugment. Thomas contends that an amendment to the parole statute, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.56, limited the Board to imposing a maximum FET of thirty-six months. See L. 2009, c. 330 (effective August 1, 2010). However, the statutory amendment on which he relies was short-lived and is not applicable here. The amendment did not take effect until after the Panel rendered its decision on July 28, 2010, and by the time the Board decided defendant's administrative appeal, the amendment had been repealed. See L. 2011, c. 67 (effective May 9, 2011).