In or Out: The Possibility of Parole

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Should the killer of a beloved school teacher be paroled later this year?

44-year-old Nicholas Elliot is serving a life sentence plus 114 years after he shot up Atlantic Shores Christian School back on December 16, 1988. WAVY’s Andy Fox looked into what the Virginia Parole Board will consider when taking on the case.

Innocence Lost: The Atlantic Shores School Shooting

Elliot not only killed teacher Karen Farley, he shot and wounded Assistant Principal Sam Marino. He also chased another teacher and fired at her, but missed. Elliot then went looking for the school bully who had tormented him for months. It is clear that Elliot likely would have shot others had his gun not jammed as he was aiming it towards the bully, who WAVY News will not identify. Elliot was then tackled and disarmed.

Elliot spoke with 10 On Your Side by phone from the Nottoway Correctional Center.

“I constantly think how I messed my life up…and messed other peoples lives up too.”

Since 2002, he’s come up for parole nine times, and nine times rejected. Andy Fox asked Elliot, “Do you ever think you will get parole?” He answered, “No not really… I’m kind of resigned to [not getting parole] because that is what the powers to be have in mind for me.”

Elliot’s fate rests in the hands of a five-person parole board, chaired by Virginia Beach Attorney Adrianne Bennett. Due to the seriousness of the crimes — murder and two counts of attempted homicide — there must be a super majority of four of the five board members to grant parole.

These are some of the issues the Board will consider:

Parole consideration: Public Safety

“The first thing we consider is whether that person poses a risk to public safety,” Bennett said. The board will ask the question: “Would I feel safe living next door to him?”

Elliot told 10 On Your Side, “I know it’s not difficult to stay out of trouble. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting anyone again.”

Parole Consideration: Conduct

Bennett says, “We want to know… what type of conduct they have engaged in since they have been incarcerated.”

Elliot entered the Virginia Department of Corrections on December 22, 1989, after pleading guilty to the crimes. Bennett confirms for 18 years, since 1999, Elliot has had no infractions, no charges, no trouble. Bennett added, “Studies show us the longer they have served… the less likely they are to come out and commit violent offenses.”

10 On Your Side asked Nicholas about his good behavior.

“But I’ve been staying out of trouble… They expect you to stay out of trouble in here… It is nothing to get accolades for it is expected.”

Parole Consideration: Adjustment

The parole board will also look at how Elliot has adjusted to prison life. He has been a library aide since 2010. WAVY News has been told it is unusual for a prisoner to have the same job for so long, and it indicates his talent in that position.

Elliot teaches other inmates how to use the computer and has learned trades to be a carpenter, electrician and HVAC technician. He also got his GED.

Parole Consideration: Victim Statements

10 On Your Side asked Karen Farley’s daughter Lora Farley Graham if she supports Nicholas getting parole. With amazing grace of forgiveness, Lora said, “I do now, yes… I would welcome him in my community and my home.”

Lora, along with her brother Will, visited Elliot on April 13, 2014. They traveled to Nottoway Correctional Center to ask some tough questions. After the visit they were convinced Nicholas showed remorse.

“He is not the same 16-year-old boy he was back then,” Lora said. “I knew as a Christian, I was called to forgive him. I prayed and prayed about it, that God would change my heart.”

Lora found Nicholas to be sorry for what he did to her family.

“He felt horrible.  He feels so much remorse. He knows what he did was in his eyes is unforgivable, but not in my eyes and not in God’s eyes.”

Bennett points out there are hundreds of victims from that dark December day, and they must be considered, too.

“Sadly, [Lora and her family] are not the only victims. There was a whole community of students that were affected, and another teacher was shot twice.”

Sam Marino recovered from his wounds.

Bennett also points out parole is not about forgiveness, it is about determining whether an inmate can successfully serve out the rest of his sentence in the community without causing problems and jeopardizing safety in the community.

Andy Fox asked Bennett, “Should Nicholas Elliot be paroled?”

Bennett answered, “I don’t know… I can’t answer that question… I have not reviewed Nicholas’ file for parole, and it takes four of the five board members to vote in favor to grant a parole.”

Lora Farley Graham thinks the parole board knows what’s best and she will support whatever decision is made.

10 On Your Side contacted former Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Sciortino, who prosecuted Elliot back in 1989. He has since left the area, but said, “Yes, I think after 30 years, probably that would be enough time. That is a long time, especially how long he’s been in there… and how young he was at the time.”

Andy Fox showed Nicholas’ father, Clarence, the most recent picture we have of his son. He looked at it and said, “Looking at his eyes… I see sadness, gloom and doom. It looks like he can’t look forward to a future.”

Clarence has visited his son only once in 30 years. He writes him every month. It should also be noted over the years, the parole board has never heard from him or any one advocating for Elliot’s parole.

“Nicholas does deserve a second chance in life,” Clarence said.

If Nicholas is ever paroled, Clarence says he will give Nicholas the family home with no mortgage, which is across the street from the home where he lived in 1988 at the time of the school shooting.

“I will be there to guide him as long as he needs me, or as long as I have breath in my body.”

The Virginia Parole Board is not making the final decision based on our investigation.

If you are a victim, or an advocate for Nicholas Elliot the Parole Board wants to hear from you.

Online: Virginia Parole Board Victim Services