Child killer Marybeth Tinning granted parole

Her impending release comes after 31 years in custody and on her seventh try
Marybeth Tinning is escorted by police during her trial.
Marybeth Tinning is escorted by police during her trial.

SCHENECTADY — Convicted child killer Marybeth Tinning has been granted parole, state officials confirmed Sunday.

Tinning, now 75, went before the state parole board last week and was granted her release. She’d been denied on six previous appearances before the board since 2007 and has served 31 years in custody.

Her exact release date is unclear, but the state inmate website lists her earliest possible release as Aug. 21. She is currently housed at the medium-security Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, Westchester County.

When she is released, she will remain under parole supervision for the rest of her life.

Tinning was sentenced in 1987 to 20 years to life in state prison for her conviction in the 1985 smothering death of her 4-month-old daughter Tami Lynne. 

Her case gained national attention as all nine of Tinning’s children died young from 1972 to 1985, eight of them under suspicious circumstances. An adopted child’s death was among the eight.

She was indicted in three deaths, but prosecutors pursued only the Tami Lynne case. Tinning has denied killing the others.

Standing by her throughout her trial and long incarceration has been her husband, Joseph Tinning. He continued to visit her regularly throughout her three decades in prison. He visited her in Westchester County at least once every other month.

Joseph Tinning told The Gazette on Sunday that his wife was informed of the decision late last week. She then told him.

“It’s very emotional,” Joseph Tinning said of the decision. “She was very emotional telling me.”

She went before the board Tuesday. He said he is “very glad that it will soon be all over with.”

They’re still waiting on the final details of when she’ll be released, Joseph Tinning said, but he said he expects they’ll live in Duanesburg.

State corrections officials have said release for inmates like Tinning usually comes within two to three months of the board granting parole.

Officials said Sunday she is “scheduled for release pending the completion of her community preparation package, which includes an approved residence.”

Tinning’s several previous attempts at parole have seen those supporting her release and those supporting her continued incarceration.

The man credited with obtaining the initial confession, then-state police Investigator William A. Barnes, supported her release before her initial trip to the parole board in 2007. He believed then that she was no longer a threat to society. Barnes, who went on to serve as Schenectady County sheriff, died last month at the age of 80.

The Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, under then-District Attorney John Poersch, prosecuted Tinning. Current Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney has opposed her release since she first became eligible for consideration. 

Told Sunday of the board’s decision, Carney noted that she’s aged and things have changed since her initial appearance. He wasn’t going to second-guess the Parole Board’s decision.

But Carney said he never saw her really acknowledge what she did.

At her first parole hearing in 2007, Tinning denied any involvement in Tami Lynne’s death. She admitted it at her next appearance and consistently in appearances afterward. 

As for the other suspicious deaths, she continued to deny harming any of the children.

“She admitted guilt, I guess, but it was without any insight,” Carney said.

Tinning’s defense attorney at her 1987 trial was Paul Callahan. Callahan said Sunday he’s glad for Tinning.

“Her sentence was 20-to-life, which means, in the judge’s opinion, the max [25-life] wasn’t appropriate for her,” said Callahan, who continues to practice locally.

Callahan noted that hope for Tinning’s release was raised when the board, after denying her last time, allowed her to return after 18 months, rather than the standard two years.

As for what she’ll do upon release, that remains to be seen. 

At her 2013 appearance, her fifth before the board, she read a letter to the board to “please allow me a chance to prove that I am not the same person that I was 27 years ago.”

“I ask you to see me as I am today, not as I was then, and to show you that I am a changed and loving person, that I am confronted with the result of my actions every day,” she wrote. “I will carry the pain and regret for the rest of my life. I would be an asset, not a problem, to society.”

She said she would prove herself through “working in the church and the community where my help is needed, such as volunteering at a food bank and homeless shelters.”

Though she’ll remain under parole supervision, Callahan said he expects she won’t have any difficulties with that. He also said he expects her husband’s residence will be acceptable to the parole board.

“There’s going to be an adjustment period for her, and who knows how long that will be?” Callahan said. “But she’ll wake up in the morning, walk around, and do what she wants to do.”

Carney said he would have felt more comfortable about her release had she acknowledged what she did.

“I don’t know if there can ever be true rehabilitation in the absence of acknowledgment of responsibility,” Carney said. “But I hope that she lives out her days peacefully and poses no threat anyone.”

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