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Shame on Connecticut for imprisoning Jancis Fuller for 25 years

You could choose to believe or not believe Jancis Fuller in her unwavering claim of innocence in a shooting in 1995 outside the Mystic home of Judge Robert Leuba, then well on his way to becoming the state's chief administrative judge.

But it's hard to imagine how anyone could believe that she deserved to spend the prime of her life, 25 years, in prison for a shooting in which no one was even injured.

Fuller has been entitled since December for release into a halfway house community program, before her formal sentence ends next year.

But neither Fuller, whom I have been chatting with by phone for a few months, nor I have been able to get any firm answers about the prospects of her release.

Clearly, the criminal justice system in Connecticut has thrown the book at her, literally locked her away, because she was accused of attacking an influential judge.

Even the lawyers and corrections officials I have spoken to off the record believe she has been more harshly treated because she was accused of shooting at the house of a judge. Shame on everyone involved.

Judge Leuba was asleep, police said, in his bedroom with his wife, Hope, when the shots were fired at his home in the middle of the night. Both were unharmed, and no bullet penetrated the interior of the house.

Fuller, who grew up in the neighborhood, around the corner from the Leuba's High Street farm, was convicted in 1997 of two counts of first-degree attempted assault and one count of carrying a pistol without a permit. A jury acquitted her on two counts of attempted murder.

But, incredibly, in what must be one of the great injustices in the history of the Connecticut justice system, she was sentenced to 40 years in prison, suspended after 30.

To put that in some perspective, Derek Chauvin was sentenced last year to 22½ years in prison for a murder that captivated the nation, the brutal strangulation of George Floyd on a Minnesota street.

The Chauvin sentence even exceeded state minimum guidelines for murder.

Nothing Fuller did hurt anyone, and she's paid for being accused of an attempted assault by spending much of her life behind bars.

You would think, given that level of injustice, that the system would finally clear Fuller for the pathway to community release to which she's entitled.

But it seems the injustice is only continuing.

Fuller first told me, in one of our abbreviated phone calls — they are timed and recorded — that she originally had been unable to even apply for the halfway house release.

She was subsequently able to file an application, but has no way of checking on how the program works, what factors are taken into consideration in granting it or what kind of timeline or schedule might apply.

Indeed, she tells me, prisoners no longer have access to materials that explain prisoner rights and how prison programs operate.

Even here on the outside, using the levers of the news media resources for the Department of Correction, I wasn't able to find out much more.

Andrius Banevicius, a department spokesman, sent me a link to broad program guidelines and some statistics showing that between 45% and 49% of the hundreds applying for the program are accepted.

"Each case is unique and there is no set timetable," Banevicius wrote. "Members of the Community Release United review cases on a continual basis as they come in. A review can take anywhere from a few days to a month ... Each case is unique and there is no set timetable."

Why do I think that the prisoner put behind bars for 25 years for allegedly shooting at an important judge's house — a crime in which no one was hurt — is not going to get cleared for community release anytime soon, especially since the rules are appropriately confusing, vague and subjective.

Probably the time has passed for Fuller to get the exoneration she believes she deserves. But it is certainly time for the state to finally do the right thing and get her on the road back to the community.

Fuller also is starting an appeal of a recent Probate Court decision upholding a gift of the Fuller family home in Mystic, made by her father to the Mystic Museum of Art.

Jancis Fuller, presenting a case before the Probate Court from prison, introduced evidence that her father was incompetent and suffering from dementia when he gave the house to the museum. The museum, which had promised Jancis' father, Harvey Fuller, to establish an artist residence program, never did anything to accomplish that and only tried to sell the house on River Road and cash out before the probate case was settled.

Fuller could badly use the help of a lawyer to reverse many decades of abuse and injustice and maybe even keep the home on River Road in the family. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that were in her father's stock funds when he died are gone.

Here's hoping that a lawyer who might help her reclaim some dignity and even some of her inheritance might step forward.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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