Judge Rejects Board's Parole Denial, Grants New Hearing

, New York Law Journal

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A man who has served 27 years of a 15-year-to-life sentence for the murder of his wife has been granted a new parole hearing by a judge who said the Parole Board focused solely on the 1986 crime in rejecting the inmate's bid for release.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Frank LaBuda (See Profile) said that at Philip Rabenbauer's ninth parole hearing in December 2012, the board "failed to articulate any reasoning for its decision to deny parole release."

LaBuda said the board's boilerplate language in denying parole—that release would "deprecate the seriousness of the offense as to undermine respect for the law"—left him with no basis on which to review the determination.

"It is unacceptable, under the law, for Respondents to have simply restated the usual and predictable language contained in so many parole release denial decisions, with no specificity or other explanation to justify parole denial," LaBuda wrote in Rabenbauer v. State, 1855-13.

Rabenbauer strangled his 25-year-old wife, confessed and asserted an extreme emotional disturbance defense claiming the victim was committing adultery. Then Nassau County Judge Edward Baker rejected the defense and convicted the defendant of second-degree murder, but imposed the minimum sentence allowable.

Despite what LaBuda described as a "close to perfect disciplinary record" in prison, release recommendations from corrections officers and numerous achievements, including earning three college degrees, the board has denied Rabenbauer release nine times. "Looking at the record as a whole, the Court concludes that not only does the record fail to clarify on what specific grounds the board denied parole, but the record strongly supports parole release for this inmate who has served nearly double the time of his minimum sentence," LaBuda wrote. He added that Rabenbauer "has repeatedly expressed remorse, shame and guilt for murdering his wife and takes full responsibility for his actions. He cannot change what he did."

David Lenefsky of Manhattan represented Rabenbauer. The parole board was represented by assistant attorney general Tracy Steeves.

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