MURFREESBORO (WATE) – The mother and grandfather of Amelia Keown, 16, are calling for tougher parole rules to keep felons in jail longer. The teen was killed in a crash in August by John Perkins, a convicted felon, who was on parole.
Perkins died the day after the wreck.
Amelia’s grandfather is now on a crusade to turn a tragic event into something good.
For more than 30 years, Wayne Keown wrestled from Memphis to Knoxville under the name of Dutch Mantell.
His home in Murfreesboro is filled with pictures of his granddaughter, Amelia. She and her mother lived with Dutch until three years ago, when they moved to Maryville.
In Wayne’s book “Tales from a Dirt Road,” the dedication is to Amelia with a picture from when she was 13. “I miss her so much,” Wayne said as he looked at the dedication and began to cry.
It was August 14 on Highway 411 outside Maryville, when Amelia was hit by John Perkins.
The junior at Blount County High School was on her way home to pick up her pom poms for dance practice. “He just hit her,” Wayne said. “He just hit her head on and killed her instantly.”
The criminal history of John Perkins, which Wayne’s family has secured through public records, is extensive. It’s 10 pages, going back to 1988.
“That guy should still be in prison,” Wayne said. “He should not have been allowed out to run the streets of Tennessee.”
When Perkins slammed into Amelia, he was on parole for a 2005 conviction of aggravated armed robbery. He was sentenced to 12 years, but paroled early.
Wayne doesn’t know why. “He got four years by robbing five convenience stores. Aggravated robbery, that means with a weapon.”
However, Perkins also had a record of drugs, felony escape, fleeing arrest, speeding and reckless endangerment.
“If this guy slipped through the cracks with this record, what is the parole board for?” Wayne said.
He wonders if the parole board knew of Perkins’ arrests, racked up in two other states before they released him. “They had all of this in front of them. They’re professionals. If our government doesn’t protect us, who is going to?” he asked.
Wayne and his daughter posted a letter on Gov. Bill Haslam’s Facebook page pleading for action.
“Now Gov. Haslam needs to take that parole board, he needs to rip it apart, tear it apart and rebuild it because they didn’t do their job,” Wayne said.
Amelia’s mother, Amanda Keown Moore, is just as angry at the parole board as her father. “This wasn’t an accident,” she said. “He killed her. To me, he murdered her.”
She started a petition drive that would keep certain felons in jail longer.
Aware that prisons are overcrowded and sometimes inmates who have served their minimum sentence are released early, Amanda hopes a law she calls Amelia’s Law would increase mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.
“I keep hearing the same thing. We need beds. It’s cheaper this way. I don’t care if it’s expensive. What is the cost?” Amanda said. “This has destroyed my life because they needed a bed? I mean, that’s the answer I’m getting and that’s not enough.”
If Amelia’s Law was proposed, Amanda says, “I want it to be similar to the three strikes and you’re out law, but any felony that endangers the public.”
“I want the law to have some teeth in it because this is going to happen again,” Wayne said.
“I can’t bring her back, but I don’t want another family to go through what we’re going through,” Amanda said. “This is a nightmare.”
“She should be in high school today in history class, math class, and looking forward to going to dance practice,” Wayne said. “But no, she can’t because this guy killed her.”
The petition drive the Keown family started currently has more than 2,200 signatures. They need 4,000.
Gov. Haslam responded to Amanda’s Moore’s Facebook post saying, “Repeat offenders and their actions are one of our biggest challenges for the state.” He has asked the public safety work group to continue looking at ways to address repeat offenders.
A national study released Monday by the Pew Research Center found that Tennessee prisoners serve some of the shortest terms in the nation. The survey found that the average Tennessee prison sentence is just under two years, and many are released early due to overcrowding.