SYRACUSE -- Matthew Benedict, the drunk driver convicted of killing former WSYR radio reporter and WTVH sports anchor Bill Leaf in 2006, could be granted parole this fall. But Bill's sister Maria -- also a former local broadcaster -- has launched an online petition to keep Benedict behind bars.
The petition is located on Facebook -- it's titled "Honor Bill Leaf. Help Keep a Killer Behind Bars." Leaf just launched it Wednesday afternoon and as of 7:30am Thursday, there are already more than 45 likes, but only two comments.
Maria Leaf says "liking" the page isn't enough. She stresses, "comments are what I really need." That's because all of the comments will be printed out and submitted to the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Leaf hopes the comments will convince officials to deny Benedict parole. The parole board is scheduled to make that decision this fall.
Maria Leaf says she'll be in town this weekend to speak with local news media about the petition. She tells CNYRadio.com she'll be interviewed on The Jim Reith Show at FM Newsradio 106.9 and 570 WSYR, this coming Monday at about 3:20pm.
Bill Leaf was driving along Interstate 81 on January 8, 2006, when Benedict, driving the wrong way, slammed into Leaf head-on. The 25-year-old graduate of Henninger High School (1998) and Syracuse University's Newhouse School (2002) was killed instantly.
Maria Leaf recalls on Facebook, "police said [Benedict's] blood alcohol content was THREE times over the legal limit." She also reminds readers, "Benedict had an extensive criminal history before this crash and is a danger to the Central New York community."
After her brother's death, Maria Leaf left her then-current job at WTOP in Washington, DC, returning to WSYR so she could be closer to home during Benedict's trial. She also pushed state lawmakers to pass The Bill Leaf-Brandi Woods Law, allowing for tougher sentencing of repeat drunk driving offenders.
According to the Inmate Lookup on the NYS DOCS website, Benedict, 27, has been in custody at the Bare Hill Correctional Facility since 2006. The medium-security prison is located in Malone, Franklin County. He's serving a sentence of 6 to 12 years, and that 6-year mark will be coming up next winter.
Benedict's parole hearing is set to take place this October, though an exact date isn't listed. If parole is granted, the site says Benedict would be released on February 19, 2012 -- but it also says "an inmate may be released [...] before the earliest release date shown."
Even if Benedict is denied parole now, he could receive a "conditional release" from prison in 2014, a two-year reduction off the high-end of his 12-year sentence. The likelihood of a conditional release depends on whether prison officials believe Benedict has been serving his time with good behavior.
Maria Leaf says she'd be grateful for any supportive comments that can be posted to the Facebook petition page through September 1st. That's when she'll print them all out and send them to the state.
The date for the 6th Annual Bill Leaf Memorial Kickball Tournament has been announced. Maria says it'll be Saturday, September 17th at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool. Right now, the date and location are the only definites -- Maria and other organizers are looking for businesses willing to donate food and beverages for event participants.
Proceeds from the tournament -- inspired by a feature story Bill Leaf produced about the park's kickball league -- will benefit a scholarship in Bill's name. We'll be sure to provide updates as more information becomes available.