In September 2003, Melvin Shawn Rowland was a one-man crime spree. I prosecuted Rowland. He was convicted of second-degree felony enticement of a minor over the internet and third-degree felony attempted forcible sexual abuse. He committed these crimes just two days apart. He was a hazard to the community, and I argued for the lengthiest possible sentence.
The sentencing judge, the Hon. Sheila McCleve, did what she did on every case. She listened to all the facts, considered the relevant law and all the circumstances scrupulously, and pronounced a justified sentence. Rowland was a 22-year-young man who had no prior convictions and, though his counsel argued for probation, McCleve sentenced him to prison, ordering the counts to run concurrently.
Rowland started his prison sentence on July 19, 2004. The sentence for a second-degree felony in Utah is one to 15 years. Rowland’s sentence could and should have kept him in prison until 2019.
Instead, he was paroled multiple times and, while on parole on Oct. 22, he murdered Lauren McCluskey at the University of Utah. If the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole (BOP) exercised appropriate oversight over Rowland, he would still be in prison and McCluskey would still be alive. By the time he completed his sentence, she would have graduated and left the university.
An official report found university officials could not have prevented the murder. McCluskey’s parents and The Salt Lake Tribune justifiably disagree.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but foresight should not be completely myopic. It was plain that Rowland should have been imprisoned until the end of his sentence. The responsibility for his untimely release is squarely with the BOP.
Rowland exhibited that he was a significant risk to the community. In fact, he threatened that he would become violent with his own parole officer. As this newspaper reported, at a parole hearing, Rowland’s attorney argued:
“I don’t know if there are any incidents of violence in the past. I don’t believe so. And if that is the case, if he has never actually perpetrated any violence on an individual, then I believe that [threat against a parole officer] can be taken with a grain of salt, as an empty threat. My recommendation would be that he be given another chance at parole.”
The BOP adopted that recommendation, though it should have been aware that Rowland was in prison for a violent crime.
Rowland’s threat to become violent again was not empty. While the university and its police department may share responsibility for McCluskey’s murder, the BOP’s failure preceded the failings of the university and led inexorably to them.
Rowland’s violence was reasonably foreseeable. He predicted it himself. The BOP’s failure to recognize that threat was reckless.
A 2016 Legislative Audit found the BOP deficient in myriad ways. Unfortunately, Utah has no mechanism to compel governmental entities to take corrective action in accord with audit recommendations. Deficiencies at the BOP are still glaring.
Gov. Gary Herbert recently announced plans to provide $1.8 million to Adult Probation and Parole, but that won’t resolve the problems at the BOP. The BOP needs radical change and accountability, immediately. Without that, offenders who should not be released will continue to be released, and the residents of Utah will continue to be at risk.
I urge all decision-makers who address problems that led to Lauren McCluskey’s brutal killing to consider genuine changes to the BOP that will help provide greater oversight over violent offenders and those who threaten to be violent offenders.
Paul G. Amann is a former special assistant United States attorney. Paul was an assistant attorney general for the state of Utah at the time he prosecuted Rowland. He served as the lead prosecutor for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force from 2003 to 2013.