Joann Curley, who is serving a 10- to 20-year sentence for poisoning her husband to death more than two decades ago in Luzerne County, has been up for parole five times. The family of the victim, Robert Curley, has had to sit on the sideline each time.
Now, because of a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Tom Corbett, when Ms. Curley next seeks her release from prison, Mr. Curley's family members will be allowed to testify directly before the board responsible for deciding her fate.
"I can now go before the parole board members and really tell them the truth, and who Bobby really was, instead of just reading all this information," and sending in photos and videos, said Susan Hooper, Mr. Curley's sister. "Now, I finally get a chance to be Bobby's voice. This is a huge step for victims," she said.
Currently, victims of crime can petition the state parole board only through a written statement or testimony provided to staff members. Under the new legislation, which was unanimously passed by the state House and Senate and will go into effect Sept. 1, victims or their representatives will be allowed to come before the board in person or by electronic means when it is considering whether to release an inmate on parole.
In Pennsylvania, inmates are allowed to apply for parole on an annual basis after serving their minimum sentence.
The new measure, an amendment to the Crime Victims Act of 1998, was praised by victims' advocates as ensuring the protection of the rights of those affected by crime.
At the bill signing, Mr. Corbett spoke of how far victims' rights have come since he first became a prosecutor nearly 37 years ago.
"It has just taken us awhile, as a society, to get to that point," he said.
In addition to the family of Robert Curley, the governor was joined by family members of Ellen Gregory Robb, who was murdered by her husband, Rafael Robb, in Montgomery County, as well as numerous legislators and law enforcement officials.
"We have waited a long time for this. It has been a long and very difficult journey," said Ms. Hooper, speaking just before the bill was signed.
"I am here representing my brother Bobby because he can't be here today. So I am his voice. I have been his voice for the last 21 years, eight months, and 22 days."
Joann Curley admitted to killing her husband to benefit from his $300,000 life insurance policy.