In 2015, Jason Dean Billingsley, the man now being sought for the killing of tech CEO Pava LaPere, was sentenced to a prison term of 30 years. So how did he get released last fall?

Like most states, Maryland allows inmates to earn time off their sentence for good conduct and engaging in work programs, moving up their release date.

Inmates can earn up to 30 days per month under the “diminution credit” system, according to a 2020 state report. Those serving sentences for crimes of violence, large drug sentences or sex offenses can receive up to 20 days per month. They earn credit for work tasks, education and special projects, including academic programs and other work details.

Becky Feldman, a former defense attorney and prosecutor who now works at the Sentencing Project, says diminution credits are designed to promote safety and good behavior inside prisons.

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“It incentivizes people to take advantage of programs and disincentivizes people who don’t take advantage of those programs and who otherwise get infractions,” she said.

Some are not eligible to earn diminution credits: Inmates serving a sentence for rape against a victim under age 16; those serving a repeat sentence for third-degree sexual assault involving a victim under age 16; and those imprisoned for a violation of lifetime sexual offender supervision.

Billingsley was arrested on charges of first-degree sex offense in July 2013, and pleaded guilty in February 2015. His sentence, backdated to when he was first incarcerated after his arrest, called for a term of 30 years, but with 16 years of that term suspended.

That meant he was ordered to serve 14 years, and up to the balance of the 16 years could be imposed by the judge if he violated terms of his release. According to a transcript, the judge, Emanuel Brown, said he didn’t think the sentence was long enough, but that prosecutors struck the arrangement because the victim did not want to testify.

Billingsley applied for parole and was refused in 2020; he appealed that denial, and was denied again, said David Blumberg, the longtime chair of the state parole commission.

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By October 2022, he earned enough diminution credits to trigger mandatory release after serving about nine years and three months of his 14-year sentence.

Those on mandatory supervised release are supervised by the Department of Parole and Probation until the expiration date of their full sentence. A violation could trigger a revocation of that release, and they could be required to serve the balance of the sentence.

At least 38 states at the time of the 2020 state report offered earned time credits, while four states did not.

This article may be updated.

Banner reporters Dylan Segelbaum and Pamela Wood contributed to this article

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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Jason Dean Billingsley.

justin.fenton@thebaltimorebanner.com

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries. 

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