SYRACUSE -- Six years ago today, friends, family and colleagues gathered for the funeral of broadcast journalist Bill Leaf. And this morning, Leaf's family has learned Bill's killer, Matthew Benedict, has been denied parole by state officials. The decision means Benedict -- who could have been released as early as next month -- will remain behind bars for at least two more years.
Bill Leaf was a reporter for WSYR radio and WTVH-TV when he was hit head-on by Benedict along Interstate 81 in Syracuse in January of 2006. Benedict was found to be driving drunk at the time and subsequently conviced of 2nd degree manslaughter and 3rd degree criminal possession of marihuana.
This was Benedict's first chance to get parole since being given a 6- to 12-year sentence. Bill's sister Maria, herself a former producer for WSYR-TV (then WIXT) and a news anchor/reporter for WSYR radio, says she just received the decision from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision this morning.
Maria Leaf says her family is "pleased" about the parole board's decision. Her family calls it "a comfort knowing Benedict will not be out on the streets anytime soon." The earliest Benedict could appear before the parole board again is September 2013. If the parole board rules differently next time, the state says Benedict could be released in March 2014.
Here's the full statement issued by Maria on behalf of the Leaf family today:
"My family is pleased to hear that Matthew Benedict will remain in prison. Mr. Benedict was a danger before this crash and needs to pay his debt to society, which to us is the entire 12 years of his sentence.
This announcement comes six years to the week Bill was killed. While it's never an easy time for my family, we feel a comfort knowing Benedict will not be out on the streets anytime soon. However, we will not take our eyes off September 2013. That is the next time Benedict would be eligible for parole. If granted, he would be released in March 2014.
We would like to thank the Syracuse Police, Onondaga County DA's office, State Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, State Senator John DeFrancisico and the New York State Department of Corrections for their help in this matter.
We'd also like to give a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who took part in the Facebook campaign to keep Benedict behind bars. This isn't just a victory for my family, but for all of Central New York because it will keep this dangerous human being off the roads.
As always, my family encourages everyone to spread the word about the dangers of drunk driving."
The Facebook campaign mentioned in the statement started in April 2011, when Maria Leaf established a special Facebook page called "Honor Bill Leaf. Keep a Killer Behind Bars." The page received several hundred "likes" and countless comments petitioning the state to keep Benedict behind bars. Maria Leaf printed all the comments and submitted them to the parole board for their consideration prior to this week's ruling.
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.