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Harris family prepares for latest battle

June 6, 2011

NORTH KINGSTOWN —Accountability.
That one word is the reason Kay Cutting says she and her family continue to fight the potential parole of Jamie Hughes, a man who murdered her father Zeke Harris on Sept. 15, 1982 and has been denied parole four times since.
Accountability is why Cutting spends months preparing for parole hearings; why she lays awake at night reliving the night she found out her father was killed; why she still seeks justice, three decades after a jury found Jamie Hughes guilty.
“I have gotten on with my life,” she says quietly from the comfort of a blue recliner in a living room full of books and family photos Tuesday afternoon. “There’s a [newspaper] article here where Mrs. Hughes said ‘Kay Cutting should get on with her life and she should have forgiveness’ but it’s not about forgiveness with Jamie, it’s about accountability. He has never had to be accountable and he’s suffering the consequences now.”
For the fifth time in 18 years, Hughes will come before the parole board this morning seeking to be released from prison. During his last parole hearing, Hughes, who was 32 at the time of the crime, presented letters of support on his behalf along with an out-of-state release plan and evidence of his achievements while behind bars, most notably a masters degree he obtained from Boston University.
For Cutting, the idea that Hughes may have changed in the three decades since his incarceration is irrelevant. Not only does she still fear for her safety and the safety of her family if Hughes was ever allowed parole, she says any release of Hughes goes against the result of the original trial.
“The jury met when we had the trial and made a decision with the judge and he had parole at 10 years which he didn’t make and then life and it’s open-ended,” she said. “It’s life and I believe in truth in sentencing and his sentence is for life and that’s what he should serve.”
Cutting talks about the effect Jamie Hughes has had on her life. Not only did she spend the years immediately following her dad’s death trying to take care of a mother who, she says, never recovered from the act, she’s had to relive the events over and over again every time Hughes has come up for parole.
“My children and I, it’s not easy for us at all,” she says. “We go in on our behalf, for our family, but we also go in to protect this community. It’s the safety of this community, as well as our family, and this is why we go every time. It’s been every five years since 1983.”
This time in particular has been painful for Cutting.
During Hughes’ last parole hearing, in December, 2007, the parole board unanimously denied Hughes his release but agreed to rehear the matter in three and a half years, not the usual five Cutting and her family have been used to.
“The children said ‘Mom, it’s taking more out of you this time’,” Cutting said.
When Cutting goes before the parole board today, she says she’ll talk about the person her father was—a beloved member of the community who was honest, caring and friendly —and the impact his death had on her, her family and the community as a whole.
“I still hear stories about my dad,” she said. “People continue to tell me stories about what he did for them and he’ll never be forgotten. I know that.”
The biggest thing Cutting hopes to impart on the parole board, however, is that while three decades is a long time, it’s not long enough to forgive someone for an act as violent and evil as the one Hughes committed.
“This was one of the most heinous crimes in Rhode Island,” she says. “I just want to impress on everyone that he made the decision to take my dad’s life and that has to change a person’s outlook. He tried to heal but it’s accountability that we are looking for that Jamie Hughes didn’t have. A life meant nothing to him, it doesn’t mean anything to him, obviously. He made the decision, it was a bad decision and he has to pay the consequences.”
Perhaps more than anything else, however, Cutting hopes the parole board understands that Hughes’ act didn’t just take the life of her father, it severely altered the lives of her mother, herself and all the members of her family.
And, because of that, Cutting will fight for as long as she can, as hard as she can, to make sure what she sees as justice continues to be done.
“It leaves a hole in your heart,” Cutting said of the impact her father’s murder has had on her. “It’s just very difficult and it’s something that’s on your subconscious and you have to remember that eventually you’re going to have to face the parole board again and hope that things will continue and that he will serve his life term until the end, his death. Until he finishes his life. That’s the way it should be.”
Jamie Hughes’ parole hearing is scheduled for this morning at 7:30 a.m. at Harrington Hall in Cranston.
The Hughes family was contacted for a comment on the parole hearing of Jamie Hughes but, on the advice of their attorneys, declined to comment.

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