Parole denied in 1986 murder

Brian McCarthy wears a bullet proof vest as he leaves a preliminary hearing on Sept. 5, 1986, at Potsdam Village Court. Escorting him are, from left, Lt. Terry McKendree, officer John Kaplan and officer James Mason, of the Potsdam Police Department. McCarthy was convicted in 1987 of killing Clarkson University student Katy Hawelka. He was denied parole in April for the seventh time in 13 years. Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — For the seventh time in 13 years, the convicted killer of Katherine M. “Katy” Hawelka has been denied parole.

Parishville native Brian M. McCarthy, 58, has been in prison for more than three decades, now serving his sentence at Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia, Cayuga County, about 23 miles northeast of Ithaca.

Pleading guilty to Katy’s murder on Aug. 13, 1987, McCarthy was sentenced by now retired St. Lawrence County Court Judge Eugene L. Nicandri that September. His term: 23 years to life in prison, out of a possible 25 to life.

Every two years since 2009, Katy’s family braces for the state Board of Parole’s decision. Her mother and three siblings, with other relatives and friends, write letters to the board ahead of McCarthy’s scheduled hearings. Oral victim impact statements are also facilitated by the state Office of Victim Assistance.

Katy was 19 and a student at Clarkson University when she was killed. She was the second oldest of her siblings Joe, Carey and Betsy.

McCarthy’s latest hearing took place at medium-security Cayuga Correctional on April 20, and Katy’s family was notified of the denial later that month. After requesting the written rationale from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision nearly two months ago, the Times received the document Thursday afternoon.

Introducing two pages, the panel wrote to McCarthy: “The Board of Parole commends your personal growth, programmatic achievements and productive use of time. However, a review of your records, a personal interview and deliberation lead the panel to conclude that release at this time is incompatible with the welfare of society.”

McCarthy’s second-degree murder conviction reflects his only New York felony conviction, though the panel noted several state misdemeanor convictions, as well as felony and misdemeanor convictions out of Virginia.

The panel wrote McCarthy’s inmate disciplinary record “overall has been good and has been clean for more than 12 years.” Based on McCarthy’s risk assessments through the COMPAS software — Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions — the panel wrote he presents as high-risk for substance abuse issues if released and low-risk for future criminal behavior. But the panel added it “must also weigh the magnitude of the crime.”

The attack happened at about 3:30 a.m. Aug. 29, 1986, at Clarkson’s Potsdam campus. The day after arriving from Syracuse for her sophomore year, Katy was beaten, raped and strangled outside the university’s Walker Arena, now significantly renovated and called Walker Center. She died three days later on Sept. 1, Watertown doctors declaring her brain dead and the Hawelka family agreeing to discontinue life support.

Katy was walking back toward her campus apartment with a friend after the village bars closed. When the pair parted, Katy cut through a parking area behind Walker, where McCarthy smashed her face into the building’s facade. During an afternoon interrogation that day, he told Potsdam police: “I had all my weight behind me.”

McCarthy, whose story started changing in the hours after the attack, calling Katy “the girl,” carried with him a list of juvenile and adult charges. He drifted from lodgings in New York after returning from living in Texas and Virginia. He had been arrested on burglary, theft and forgery charges in St. Lawrence County, and served 10 months of a two-year prison sentence in Virginia for stealing a car, though the charge was reduced to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

At the time of the attack, McCarthy was on probation through a New York transfer and an early release deal stemming from the Virginia offense.

While Katy was in the hospital, McCarthy, then 23, was charged with first-degree rape and assault, and additionally charged with second-degree murder when Katy died.

McCarthy has been transferred between more than 10 state correctional facilities, including Marcy, Downstate, Attica, Clinton, Auburn, Elmira, Orleans and Cape Vincent.

The panel’s decision includes an acknowledgement of McCarthy’s ability “to express regret” but his inability to display remorse: “for your victim and her lost life specifically,” the panel wrote.

The Board of Parole comprises 16 commissioners appointed to six-year terms by the governor. During an inmate’s interview, usually a few weeks after victims make a case, two or three commissioners are present as the panel, with prison staff and a stenographer. The maximum interval between parole hearings in New York is two years, though state legislation has been proposed to increase that maximum to five years.

Versions of Assembly and Senate bills to increase the parole eligibility interval have been introduced every year since 2009. The proposed increase is called Lorraine’s Law, after the 1988 murder of 24-year-old Lorraine Miranda in Staten Island. The bill failed to make it out of committee in both the Assembly and Senate before the 2021-22 legislative session concluded earlier this month.

McCarthy is eligible to be heard by the board again in April 2023.

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