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Senate makes changes to parole board transparency bill
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After passage in the State Senate on the last day of the 2015 General Assembly, the House Bill designed to make one of the state's most secretive agencies more transparent is awaiting the governor's signature.

"The Senate did water it down some, but it's still a major step in the right direction of increasing transparency in that process," said State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville.

"The patrol transparency legislation I carried is very close to my heart."

Tanner authored House Bill 71, known as the parole board transparency act, following the board's vote last summer to commute the death sentence of Tommy Lee Waldrip without sharing how or why they came to that decision.

Just like the murder of Keith Lloyd Evans shook the tightknit Dawson County community 23 years before, the board's decision to overturn Waldrip's death sentence for his part in the slaying devastated family, family and many that worked the case over the years, including Tanner, a deputy at the time.

"I just believed then and I believe now that whether you agree with the death penalty or not, that family deserves a better answer than, ‘It's a secret and we can't discuss it,'" he said.

In addition to opening transparency in parole board decisions, the bill tackles another secretive practice that for the first time in 70 years that would bring more transparency to the parole process.

"Pardons were being granted to individuals who were sex offenders and violent criminals. Their gun rights were being restored without the victims having any knowledge that a pardon was even being considered or granted," Tanner said.

Once signed into law, within 72 hours of receiving a request to commute a death sentence, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles will be required to "provide notification to a victim of the date set for hearing such request and provide the victim an opportunity to file a written response."

Tanner's original bill also would have opened information pertaining to the decisions of the pardons and paroles, though that portion was not part of the Senate's version.

"We'll monitor how they take this. If they don't open up on their own even more, then we'll bring forth additional legislation in the future," he said.

Tanner said he plans to request that the governor sign it into law in Dawson County where the case originated.

In 1991, Waldrip, along with his son John Mark Waldrip and brother-in-law Howard Livingston, killed Evans, a young Dawsonville man who was set to testify against the younger Waldrip in an armed robbery case.

The three suspects were each charged in the murder and faced separate trials three years later. The proceedings were held in different counties to avoid a tainted jury from Dawson's population, which was only about 10,000 at the time.

In October 1994, a jury found Tommy Lee Waldrip guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury and aggravated battery.

He also was convicted of five counts of aggravated assault, theft by taking of a motor vehicle, arson in the second degree, intimidating a witness and concealing a death.

In addition, he was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to death.

In separate trials, John Mark Waldrip and Livingston were sentenced to life in prison for their involvement.

Monday marked the 24th anniversary of the slaying.