Wideman parole hearing traumatic for victim's parents

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Last May, Jacob Wideman lost his first bid for parole after serving 25 years in an Arizona prison for killing a camp bunkmate in 1986 when they were both 16. Today he will try again to gain his freedom.

And again, the family of his victim, Eric Kane, will try to keep him behind bars, even as they decry the legal system that could force them to relive their son's murder every six months for the rest of his killer's incarceration.

Wideman, now 42, is the son of John Edgar Wideman, the celebrated African-American author who grew up in Pittsburgh.

The parole board in Phoenix last year ruled unanimously that the prisoner had too many psychological problems that had not been adequately addressed and therefore could not be safely released into society. They also wanted more information from Flagstaff police about the death of Shelli Wiley, a 22-year-old college student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., 10 months before Eric Kane. Jake Wideman confessed to killing her after he was charged in Eric's death, then recanted. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence. The case remains unsolved.

Wideman pleaded guilty in September 1988 to stabbing Eric without provocation and leaving him to bleed to death in a Flagstaff motel room while on a cross-country trip sponsored by their summer camp in Maine. The judge imposed a sentence of 25 years to life, recommending that he never be released. But under Arizona law, he became eligible for parole last year. He remains eligible every six months from now on, although last year's board voted to delay his next hearing until a year had passed.

Eric's parents, Louise and Sanford Kane, both 70, of New York City, say Wideman should never be paroled and are doing everything in their power to prevent it.

"It's mind-boggling that we have to keep going through this," Louise Kane said. "This is a dangerous murderer, very manipulative. He should never be let out. It's very hard on us emotionally."

Last year the Kanes set up a website, www.weremembereric.org, urging anyone who knew their son to write to the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, describing the impact of Eric's death and opposing his killer's release. They collected 200 letters, and board members referred to them in rendering their decision. The letters remain in the record.

In denying parole last year, the panel noted that the prisoner was not taking any medication (he said he and his doctor agreed the drugs were not working) and had not provided any medical records indicating progress.

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