Vyto Starinskas / Staff File Photo
Hope Schreiner, right, waits with paralegal Kim Keefe in March 2006 for the jury verdict that would find she killed her husband two years earlier.
An 81-year-old West Townshend woman who was convicted in 2006 of killing her elderly husband has been released from prison early on a medical furlough because of a “terminal or debilitating” illness, state officials said Thursday.
Hope Schreiner, who is the state’s oldest female inmate and its second-oldest inmate in custody, was released this week to a nursing home in northern Vermont, said Dean George, chairman of the Vermont Parole Board.
George said the decision to grant medical furlough to Schreiner was made by the Department of Corrections, not the Parole Board.
Schreiner had received a sentence of 17 years to life in March 2006 for the second-degree murder of her husband, Robert Schreiner, 78. She was not eligible for parole until March 2023, said Cullen Bullard, DOC’s director of classifications and facilities designation.
“She is not free; she is supervised on furlough,” he said, noting that DOC had consulted with the family of Robert Schreiner and the Parole Board.
“We discussed the release with the family of her husband. I believe that’s all we can say,” Bullard said. “The victims were extensively involved in all discussions.”
He said the department decided to release Schreiner on its own rather than going through the Parole Board because there are “fewer obstacles to go through.”
Vermont law states medical furlough may be granted to an inmate “who is diagnosed as suffering from a terminal or debilitating condition so as to render the offender unlikely to be physically capable of presenting a danger to society.”
The law says the inmate may be released to a “hospital, hospice, other licensed inpatient facility, or other housing accommodation deemed suitable by the commissioner.”
Bullard, citing medical privacy laws, refused to discuss Schreiner’s illness or its severity, but said the issue of her treatment had been under discussion for eight to nine months.
Since her conviction eight years ago, Schreiner had been held at the Dale prison unit for women at the state complex in Waterbury, and later transferred to the South Burlington women’s prison.
Evidence at the trial showed that Robert Schreiner was beaten in the head with a pronged instrument. Prosecutors said the murder weapon was the couple’s potato hoe, although it was never found.
The autopsy also revealed that at the time of his death he had a heavy dose of the sedative Ambien in his system. Prosecutors said it was administered by his wife, via a cup of coffee
The couple had been married for 43 years and had a total of nine children, eight from previous marriages and one together.
Testimony at the trial revealed that it was an unhappy marriage, that Hope Schreiner had had an affair with a neighbor in the months before the murder and wanted to start a fresh chapter in her life. Prosecutors said she didn’t want to care for her elderly husband, who had serious medical problems.
Testimony during her trial revealed that Hope Schreiner admitted to killing her husband to two of her friends.
The murder split the melded family badly, with one of Hope Schreiner’s daughters siding with her stepbrothers and their wives.
Schreiner’s first-degree murder trial was broadcast live on Court TV from the downtown Brattleboro courthouse, and at the time attracted a lot of media attention. The jury convicted her of second-degree murder.
George said the Parole Board earlier this year had rejected a Corrections plan to release the ill Schreiner to a family member in Pennsylvania, who has medical training.
“That didn’t ring well with us,” he said. “We weren’t supporting a release, she was still eight years away.”
Then Corrections was able to find a facility in northern Vermont to care for her, George said.
He didn’t know Schreiner’s illness. “But she has pretty serious debilitating health issues,” he said.
David Gartenstein, the deputy state’s attorney for Windham County who prosecuted Schreiner in 2006, said the Victims’ Advocate office had been notified of Schreiner’s move, but he had no information behind the decision.
“There’s a range of furlough provisions in Vermont statutes,” he said. “I can’t comment on the basis of the furlough.”
Bullard said Vermont currently has two male inmates 80 years or older, and 19 male prisoners between the age of 70 to 79.
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