Ohio Parole Board Releases Convicted Killers Despite Dangers to (and Pleas from) the Public

Ohio Parole Board Releases Convicted Killers Despite Dangers to (and Pleas from) the Public

By Doug Wyllie

Photo by Matthew Bornhorst on Unsplash

The names Kevin Walls and David Kohls can now be added to an inauspicious list of individuals walking free due—in part, at least—to so-called “progressive reforms” of the American criminal justice system.

In the span of just a few days in April, the Ohio Parole Board granted freedom to those two violent offenders despite desperate pleas—coming from victims’ families, victim advocacy groups, and law enforcement officials—to keep the potentially dangerous men behind bars. The contention was—and is—that the general welfare of the general public is put in possible jeopardy by Walls’ and Kohls’ release.

Decades ago, both Walls and Kohls were convicted of committing horrible murders—and given life sentences for their actions—but have now been granted parole.

Cutting Open Old Scars

In both Walls’ and Kohls’ cases, the initial crimes were committed with sharp knives, and in both cases their release acts to cut open old scars inflicted on the community those many years ago.

Kevin Walls was in prison for aggravated robbery when a rookie detective investigating cold cases found that his prints hit in a new fingerprint database, subsequently proving his presence at the scene where 83-year-old Ann Zwiefelhoefer was stabbed to death in 1985.

In the attack, Zwiefelhoefer suffered nine stab wounds. It was determined that none of those should have been fatal but she bled out when Walls left her for dead on the flowered carpet in the living room of her home.

According to WLWT-TV News, Clermont County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser had made earnest efforts to keep Walls behind bars, at one point helping concerned citizens draw attention to a petition against Walls’ release.

“I think it is the role of the prosecutor to speak for the community,” Gmoser told WLTW earlier this year, adding that Walls had been “sentenced to a life sentence for a reason.”

Indeed, upon conviction of Zwiefelhoefer’s murder, Walls was sentenced to 20-years-to-life with parole eligibility after 20 years—that was 23 years ago.

Walls is now set to be free.

David Kohls was found guilty of aggravated murder in connection with the brutal stabbing death of an innocent 27-year-old woman named Maria Olberding, who was out for a quick trip to a convenience store near her Cincinnati home.

In June 1994, Kohls received a sentence of 20-years-to-life for the aggravated murder verdict—and 10-years-to-life for an additional count of aggravated robbery—but was granted early release under guidelines established under a 2021 Ohio law that grants hearings to convicts serving long sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.

According to WXIX-TV News, Assistant Prosecutor Sean Donovan was among the notable voices calling to keep Kohls behind bars.

In a letter to the parole board, Donovan said that the then-16-year-old predator left his family’s dinner table, armed himself with a 13″ butcher’s knife, and went out “to find someone to rob” adding that Kohls should not now “be allowed to live the life that he stole from Maria Olberding.”

Kohls is now set to be free.

Relying on Relevant Experience

The eight-member Ohio Parole Board—which according to its website now consists of Joe Brumfield, Steve Herron, Glenn Holmes, Marc Houk, Lisa Hoying, Kathleen Kovach, Lance Pressley, and Scott Widmer—voted 7-1 in favor of Walls’ parole and 5-3 in granting Kohls’ early release.

It merits mention that members of the board come to the position with differing degrees of relevant experience in various areas across the criminal justice universe.

Brumfield recently served as Director of Youth Outpatient Programs for Mental Health Services of Clark and Madison Counties.

Holmes was the Mayor for the Village of McDonald before being elected State Representative serving Ohio’s 63rd House District.

Herron is a former Assistant Public Defender and Hoying is a former Assistant Prosecuting Attorney with the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

Pressley served 15 years as a victim advocate with the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office and Kovach spent two years as the Director of Victim Services for that organization.

Widmer and Houk were at one time in their respective careers corrections officers—the former went on to become an adjunct instructor for a local university and the latter the warden of a correctional facility.

Given a superficial glance, there is little in the resumes and/or backgrounds of the abovementioned professionals to indicate any manner of animus toward the citizens of the Buckeye State—or any glaringly obvious propensity to do them harm. Having a century or so of combined experience in those fields suggests—on the surface, at least—resident skills, abilities, and an aggregate wisdom to deliver sound decisions.

In fact, the board has—beyond a shadow of a doubt—rightly and righteously denied parole to inmates who might present a threat to civilized society.

One such individual is John Johnson, who was convicted of murder and attempted murder more than 40 years ago and will remain incarcerated until at least 2028, when his next parole hearing will take place.

Another person denied parole by the board is Lincoln Mabry Jr. who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend—coincidentally, also more than 40 years ago—and is now pretty likely to finish his time on Earth in a correctional institution.

Then there’s the so-called ‘Grandview Rapist’—given name Edward F. Jackson Jr.—who was sentenced to as much as 985 years in jail after being convicted of multiple counts of rape involving at least 36 victims.

Of course, there are many other such cases but those three are sufficiently illustrative of the board’s good work in protecting Ohioans.

Noteworthy also is the fact that just two years ago, a Cincinnati-based advocacy group focused on incarceration policy reform filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Parole Board alleging a practice of “following an unwritten rule” to deny parole to certain inmates.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) said in its 2021 suit that the board “observes a blanket policy or practice of denying parole to any person who was previously sentenced to death, even after the sentence was changed to life with the possibility of parole.”

Just months before filing that lawsuit, the OJPC was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in filing suit against the parole board and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction asserting that confidential letters written by victims’ family members played an unfair role in the denial of parole requests.

Tearing Down Established Norms

Consequently, it’s a little difficult to reconcile the fact that on one hand the parole board has been maligned by inmate advocacy groups and on the other hand has also been criticized by victims’ rights groups—in fact, this is precisely why the recent decisions to release Walls and Kohls is so bewildering.

The only plausible explanation is that—at least in these two instances—members of the board have somehow succumbed to the uncompromising and unrelenting pressure from the political elites who seek to tear down established norms of protecting the public from potentially dangerous criminals.

Perhaps Walls and Kohls are outliers—perhaps they are truly reformed and rehabilitated—and the Ohio Parole Board will resume the good work in protecting Ohioans.

We can only hope…