Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Russell Obremski: A Killer's Luck

A Killer Walks Free

Obremski would have been eligible for parole in 10 years if the sentences ran concurrently, or in 20 years if they ran consecutively. If Obremski had served his terms consecutively, he would have been eligible for parole in 1989.

In 1977, the matrix system was implemented as a parole tool in Oregon. Designed to reduce prison overcrowding, the matrix system is a complicated formula that sets a definite release date for all prisoners. For Obremski, the parole board calculated a November 1986 release. This means Obremski would serve a mere 17 years for committing two heinous murders.

In 1986, a Victim's Rights law was passed, allowing victims' families to speak at parole hearings. At every one of Obremski's parole hearings, his victims' families were there to speak. Especially vocal was Pam Nelson, LaVerna Lowe's daughter. She was there to fight. She circulated petitions throughout Oregon. "My goal was to keep him in prison, where he belongs," she told 48 Hours.

Pam Rowe Nelson as a child
Pam Rowe Nelson as a child

Ultimately, her efforts, while successful in bringing attention to this case and affecting change in the parole system, didn't keep Obremski behind bars. His parole date was extended five times, finally to Nov. 8, 1993.

Obremski's parole hearing
Obremski's parole hearing

When he passed a psychological exam, the parole board lost its ability to keep him in prison. The psychiatrist whom the parole board hired to evaluate Obremski, Dr. Robert Davis said, "I concluded that Mr. Obremski was not a clear and present danger."

Obviously, the parole board took major criticism for releasing him, suggesting that the board could have shopped around for another psychological recommendation that would have found Obremski unfit for release.

Obremski's prison record was not taken into account when his parole was granted, despite a list of infractions, which included possession of narcotics, undetailed sexual activity, disobedience, and false statements to the staff.

In spite of over 50,000 petition signatures asking to keep him in prison, on Nov. 8, 1993, Russell Obremski was paroled.

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