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Kimball's release set for 1993

Bruce Kimball, the former Olympic diver who is serving time for killing two Brandon teen-agers while driving drunk, has been such a model inmate he could have gotten out of prison next month. However, a two-member panel of the Florida Parole Commission decided Tuesday that Kimball should stay in Marion Correctional Institution near Ocala until November 1993.

"Commissioner (Kenneth W.) Simmons and I felt that five years was enough time for punishment, enough time for him to experience some real remorse and make his decision that he's going to lead a different kind of life when he's released," Commissioner Anabel Mitchell said.

In making their decision, the commissioners seemed to take a middle road.

After pleading no contest in January 1989 to two counts of drunken driving/manslaughter and three counts of drunken driving involving serious bodily injury, Kimball received a 17-year sentence.

But because of Florida's prison overcrowding problem, most prisoners serve only a fraction of their sentences. Officials originally set a release date of November 1995 for Kimball.

Kimball's good behavior, combined with his participation in drug and alcohol programs and college coursework, meant that under a new law designed to make room in prison for the most violent offenders, parole commissioners could have released him next month.

The new release date would be reconsidered only at the Department of Corrections' request, said Parole Commission spokeswoman Ruth Ann Reese.

The father of one of the teens injured when Kimball's car plowed into a group of youths along a dark Brandon road in August 1988 has expressed sympathy for Kimball and said he ought to be released.

Raymond Kerker, whose son R.J. almost lost a leg in the crash, has written to Kimball expressing his forgiveness, a letter that Commissioner Simmons mentioned Tuesday.

But the mother of one of the teens killed in the crash called the justice system a joke for allowing Kimball to be released 12 years short of his original sentence.

"I cannot understand having your sentence reduced for doing what you're supposed to do. It's absurd," said Terry Bedell, whose son Robbie was 19 when he died.

Tom Satterly, president of the Hillsborough chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said by telephone from Tampa that he agreed with Mrs. Bedell.

The early release "really sends a very mixed message out that drunk driving may not be a serious crime," he said.

Mrs. Bedell said she drove to Tallahassee for the brief meeting to speak for victims and their families. She found out about the meeting when a newspaper reporter called her. (A state computer system designed to notify crime victims of upcoming hearings failed to work.)

"I'm speaking for the thousands of cases (the Parole Commission) is looking at today," she said. "They've committed crimes _ do they not get punished? What does that mean, that we live in chaos here?"

The Parole Commission considered Kimball's case Tuesday in a review of more than 23,000 inmates. A new state law, passed after a Miami case in which two police officers were killed by an inmate who was released early, requires that the commission review all cases so that inmates convicted of the most violent crimes will remain in prison longer.

Frank Quesada, Kimball's attorney, said he hadn't held out much hope that the Parole Commission would release his client next month.

"Scheduling this before the election, it's a joke," Quesada said. "Who could afford to give Bruce Kimball any relief?"

Quesada said he disagreed with the notion that Kimball needs more time in prison to develop remorse. It was Kimball, Quesada noted, who pleaded no contest to the charges to avoid putting the victims' families and his own parents through the ordeal of a trial.

In an interview with the Tampa Tribune last summer, Kimball said that although he didn't publicly apologize during the trial, and despite his decision to try out for the Olympic diving team after his arrest, he truly felt deep sorrow for what he had done. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it," he said.

The Kimball case prompts daily thoughts for many of the people involved.

Maria Kerker understands why her husband has forgiven Kimball and feels sympathy for the former Olympian. She is grateful that her son is doing so well today; R.J. is a student at Hillsborough Community College and has a full-time job.

But Mrs. Kerker feels for the families who weren't so fortunate. She worries that if Kimball gets out early, people will think drunken driving isn't a serious crime with serious repercussions.

Then again, she also thinks that whether Kimball is in prison or not, his crime will remain with him.

"You can forgive someone, but that doesn't mean they aren't responsible," she said. "Bruce has got the rest of his life to think about this."