ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s been almost ten years since Dennis Drue got in his car, dunk and high on drugs, ultimately causing the crash that killed Shenendehowa students Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers. Early Wednesday morning, the NYS Board of Parole denied his request for release a third time.
It’s only a small victory for Christopher’s father, Michael Stewart.
“Those thoughts come up right away as to what would Christopher be doing right now or what kind of job would he have? That’s a pain that I don’t think will ever go away,” Michael explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “We often see Christopher’s friends or classmates, and I wonder would he have been married by now? Had kids like so many others his age have now done? That’s very hard to think about.”
According to the DOCCS website, Drue won’t be able to appeal to the parole board again until July 2024, but has a conditional release date as early as November 2023.
Michael says it’s agonizing having to go through the process over and over again, and it’s harder than ever to prove how much losing his son has cost. Since COVID hit, he and other victims’ families haven’t gotten to give their side to the board face-to-face, reduced instead to 30 minute phone calls with a single board member.
“There’s no way that you can express emotions and tears and sadness over the phone or at least a Zoom call. Sometimes the person you’re talking to on the phone isn’t even the same person who would be evaluating the inmate and the board members just get a transcript of what you had said,” Michael says.
Senator Jim Tedisco joining the Stewart and Rivers families to create “Christopher and Deanna’s Law” that would amend the parole board’s review of victim impact statements.
“When they give a statement, it would be mandated to be videotaped and also it would be a requirement that the individuals — the three commissioners of the parole [board] who interview those perpetrators up for parole — have to view those video tapes from beginning to end,” Tedisco explains to NEWS10.
“The inmate is definitely going to have either a Zoom call with the commissioners or even a face-to-face with the commissioners when they make their decision, and it’s just common sense that the families should have that same right,” Michael says.
He adds he’s only gotten one letter from Drue a week before his second parole hearing in 2020. However, based on what Drue has said in his parole attempts, he decided to throw it away unopened.
“If we had gotten it maybe six months before, it might have had more meaning to us, but to get it only about a week before the hearing, it felt like it was just a box he was checking off as if someone advising him had said this is what you have to do to show the board how ‘good’ you’re doing,” Michael explains.
“We’ve gotten to read the transcripts of what he’s said during the parole hearings and his claims of remorse or changing or his history with alcohol and drug abuse, and to me it just felt very insincere,” he goes on to say.
NEWS10 has not been able to find a lawyer representing Drue for comment.