In her fourth bid for freedom, convicted child killer Marybeth Tinning told a parole board this week she is held in prison by more than just the state — she is held in prison by her actions and her memories.
Current Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, whose office prosecuted Tinning a quarter century ago, said Tinning’s latest parole comments relating to her memories, or alleged lack there of, suggest she is still holding back information.
Tinning’s fourth appearance before the parole board this week was also the fourth time she was denied parole. The decision and transcript of her parole appearance was released Thursday.
Tinning, now 70, was sentenced in 1987 to 20 years to life in prison after she was convicted in Schenectady County Court of smothering her 4-month-old daughter, Tami Lynne. The infant was killed Dec. 20, 1985, at Tinning’s Schenectady home.
Tinning was also suspected, but never tried or convicted, in the deaths of seven of her eight other children over a 14-year period. One of the seven who died was an adopted son.
In her latest parole hearing, Tinning again admitted responsibility for the death of Tami Lynne, as she has since her second hearing. In her first appearance before the board, in 2007, Tinning denied responsibility, saying she could not believe she could harm a child.
At her second appearance, she explained her actions by saying she was “going through bad times.” At her third hearing, she explained she saw herself then as “a messed up person.”
Asked about the death of Tami Lynne at her Tuesday parole hearing, Tinning again admitted to killing her.
When asked about the circumstances though, Tinning couldn’t answer.
“It’s just — I can’t remember. I mean, I know I did it, but I can’t tell you why. There is no reason.”
Asked if she remembered smothering her daughter with a pillow, Tinning responded that she didn’t remember. “No. After the fact I remembered, but I don’t remember why.”
In her 2011 parole hearing, Tinning told the board she killed Tami Lynne because she simply believed she would die like the others, so Tinning just killed her. She’d lost it after all the others died, she said.
Tinning’s memories then factored into a letter the parole board allowed her to read at the conclusion of the session.
In the letter, Tinning wrote she hoped the board members would find it in their hearts to allow her to go home.
“My actions and my memories hold me in a prison every day, whether I’m awake or asleep,” Tinning read. “My heart breaks every day and I grieve every second. No matter where I am, I will live with my actions and continue to pray for forgiveness, and nothing will change that.”
She then added it wasn’t her suffering that was at issue. “It is both the loss of an innocent life and the suffering endured by my husband for my actions. I am very sorry.”
Carney, though, pointed out Tinning’s apparent two versions of her memory, her professed lack of memory regarding the death of Tami Lynne and then the reference to the memories that she contended hold her in prison.
“On the one hand, she tells them she doesn’t remember what happened, but on the other hand, her actions and memories put her in her private prison,” Carney said. “That seems to indicate she knows more than she’s admitting.”
Key to the prosecution’s case was a confession in which she allegedly made admissions to killing three of her children. She was only tried on Tami Lynne’s death.
Overall, Carney said, he doesn’t believe Tinning has honestly come to grips with what she did.
Tinning’s trial attorney, Paul Callahan, though, questioned the parole board’s decision to keep her in prison.
Callahan noted a section in the parole transcript where the board cited her re-entry risk assessment, which was “low.” Her criminal involvement was also “low” and history of violence at “medium.”
“I think they’re just — they just don’t want her to be released, that’s kind of what I’m seeing,” Callahan said.
After her third parole denial, Tinning filed a legal challenge in court, called an Article 78. Court records indicate that it was filed in January 2012 and denied in June 2012.
The board’s final rationale for keeping Tinning was similar to the previous ones.
“This was an innocent, vulnerable victim who was entrusted in your care as her mother, and you viciously violated that trust causing a senseless loss of this young life,” the board wrote.
Release, the board wrote, would “so depreciate the severity of the crime to undermine respect for the law.”
Tinning is next up for parole in January 2015.
Elsewhere in the parole hearing, Tinning was asked about her other children, who all died before the age of 5. “Do you know why, what was going on?” she was asked.
“All I can tell you (is) in my papers and, in reflection, they died of other causes. It’s in my paperwork, but they did not die by my hands.”
“This was the only one?” she was asked.
Later, by another board member, the topic of the other children was approached in a different way. If she had gone through such a terrible experience so many times with her other children, and then finally had a child that was healthy, why she wouldn’t do everything in her power to keep harm from coming to that child.
“So, can you understand how we’re a little perplexed that you can’t provide any type of information as to why you did it?” she was asked.
“Yes, I understand,” Tinning responded. “I have no reason. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, make up a story. I just don’t know.”