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Battered woman paroled after 29 years

April 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Connie Keel was sitting in a car outside a liquor store 29 years ago while her husband killed the store owner inside. For that, she was convicted of first-degree murder. She was also a battered wife, and now she has been paroled. Keel reunited with her family Wednesday in Claremont.It was an extremely emotional scene a couple of hours ago, with hugs and tears of joy. The transitional home in Claremont is where Connie Keel will be for the next six months. This was also the location where she was able to meet up with her family and her friends as a free woman for the first time in 29 years. Keel said this day was only a dream, the day she would once again be free. But this morning that dream finally came true.

"I waited for 29 years, one month and one day," said Connie Keel.

Connie Keel is a convicted murderer, but perhaps there's more to the story than that. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for sitting in her car as her husband at the time robbed and killed a shop clerk in northern California back in 1980.

Keel's attorney at her recent parole hearing, USC law student Adam Reich, says Keel was an abused woman, forced by her ex-husband to be there, waiting in the car at the time of murder. He says he took up her case because she was already denied parole five times. Recently, a state report confirmed she suffered battered woman's syndrome.

"None of us are saying she shouldn't have served time, but the position that we've maintained throughout is that 29 years for a nonviolent person who had no prior convictions and had no active role in the crime, and was there really against her will, is way too much, and that is the humanist side that Governor Schwarzenegger recognized and the reason why we're standing here today," said Reich.

"I'm a healed woman today, and I appreciate all I've had the opportunity to endure and learn, and I'm grateful for the experiences I've had in my life, even the bad ones, because they've made me who I am today," said Keel.

And this day shouldn't come as a complete surprise, but it is one of the few times that Gov. Schwarzenegger has not blocked a prisoner's release upon the parole board's first recommendation.

But for Connie Keel and her family, and her attorney, it's a situation that's far from over. She now has a battle to fight and that's the battle of bringing much-needed attention to the issue of battered women like her.


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