EVERETT — The state Court of Appeals on Monday ordered that a young killer from Snohomish County be granted parole.
Gail Brashear was 15 when she shot and stabbed a man to death during a carjacking near Granite Falls in 1996. She pretended she needed help on the side of the road, while her boyfriend hid in the brush, and she then attacked Dan Varnell, a 48-year-old father and veteran, when he pulled over.
Brashear, now 37, remains at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, on a conviction of first-degree murder. Her original sentence was for 51 years.
Last year, her case was reviewed by the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, which works closely with state corrections. Brashear and many other offenders who entered the system as juveniles have received new hearings in recent years under state and federal reforms. The courts generally have found that minors shouldn’t go on to serve prison time amounting to life sentences.
The board denied Brashear’s request for parole, but had said it would hold another hearing in 2022.
In the recent 12-page decision, the appeals court found that the board’s reasoning was flawed and that it focused too much on the crimes instead of potential rehabilitation.
For inmates whose cases are affected by the reforms, “the ISRB must order a person released unless it finds that, despite conditions, he or she is more likely than not to reoffend,” the court ruled.
Brashear’s crimes were “heinous,” but she should be released after serving 20-plus years, the higher court said.
Inmates who have been behind bars for a long time make a transition through lower security levels before they are set free.
Kecia Rongen, the board chairwoman, issued a prepared statement Thursday.
“The Indeterminate Sentence Review Board is exploring our options in response to this decision,” she said. “The matter of the Brashear case is still within the purview of the board and [it] wishes to preserve its quasi-judicial impartiality and therefore has no further comment.”
Varnell’s daughter, Mayume Carelli, on Thursday said she was shocked and disappointed. However, she added, her family understands that Brashear “has been working very hard within her means to better herself.”
“I know that my father would have found it in his heart to ‘let her go,’ ” Carelli said. “It’s because my father was an exceptional human being that I am holding Brashear to exactly that … if she is really and truly remorseful for all of the heinous crimes committed … that she honor my father by becoming an exceptional human being.”