Terry Releford’s specialty was preying on the weak and the defenseless. At 18, he already was a convicted rapist. Graduation to killer would come later.
When Releford walked out of prison in 2012, having served most of his 17-year sentence for raping two women and nearly killing one of them, he was not on parole. Not subject to any oversight or follow-up.
He was placed on the sex offender registry for life, meaning he was required to notify authorities of his address.
But even though authorities knew he was living on Lovell Road outside Soddy-Daisy, that did nothing to protect the woman and two children who lived with him.
“He should have been on somebody’s radar,” said Rosevelt Noble, a senior lecturer in the sociology department at Vanderbilt University who studies crime, deviance and prison violence.
A week ago today, Releford’s predatory and violent nature roared to life in a spasm of horror that left his pregnant wife, Tammy Hale Releford, dead and another female terrorized and violated, police reports show.
The next day, Releford, 34, killed himself.
Tammy Hale Releford, who was the manager of Liberty Tax Service in Hixson, was buried Saturday.
State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, called Releford’s crimes “terrible” and said he favors imposing extra conditions upon the release of violent sex offenders. He said he plans to contact Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield to discuss current practices.
McCormick also supports extending the sentences of violent sex offenders.
“We need to keep them incarcerated as long as possible,” he said.
Nothing that happened in the course of Releford’s prison sentence could have led corrections officials to believe he had become any less dangerous.
In 2005, about midway through his sentence, Releford beat another inmate so severely the man had to receive medical treatment.
Five years later Releford was required to undergo a “self-actualization” program, intended to keep high-risk inmates from raping each other and committing sex acts while locked up.
Correction Department records don’t indicate that Releford underwent sex offender treatment or was evaluated by a mental health professional after a referral. He told officials he would get treatment upon his release in 2012.
But it’s not known whether he actually sought treatment, and the Correction Department says it was not required to ensure that he ever did so.
“If they are under the supervision of Tennessee Department of Correction, the probation/parole officer monitors that on a monthly basis, but this offender was not under TDOC supervision once released,” said Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for TDOC.
Records show Releford last reported as a violent sex offender to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in March.
State requirements for violent sex offenders require only that they provide information about their residence, work and vehicle.
Noble thinks that needs to change.
“You still have to have some sort of follow-up,” Noble said. “That’s not monitoring his behavior. That’s just checking in.”
Tennessee prisons hold 19,921 inmates, of whom 14.1 percent are serving time for sex offenses, according to the Department of Correction website.
In many cases, offenders are worse than Releford, Noble said.
More than a quarter of sex offenders will likely commit another sex offense within a little over a year after their release, according to a 2007 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation study.
Releford’s deadly outburst came two days short of the one-year anniversary of his release from prison.
All of that speaks to the urgency of developing better programming and counseling for inmates, Noble said.
"Ninety-five percent of the people in prison are walking out of prison someday," Noble said. "Everyone is potentially going to get out."
Releford’s case highlights a lack of oversight for violent sex offenders who are not subject to parole upon release. There also is a shortage of resources to rehabilitate inmates, Noble said.
Inmates such as Releford should be required to go before a parole board even after completing their sentences, Noble said.
Noble also suggested making room for violent prisoners in overcrowded prisons and cutting incarceration costs by sentencing low-level drug offenders to drug treatment rather than prison time.
“Let’s free up that bed space up for people who display violent tendencies. He needs that bed space more than others,” Noble said. “We can make that space. We need to make more effective use of that space we have.”
Noble also pointed out that many inmates potentially would serve additional time if prisons prosecuted inmates when they assault each other.
“They don’t touch the fact that an inmate assaults another inmate and gets charged for that,” Noble said. “That’s something that’s on that person’s file. That would have been a red flag to a parole board.”
Like Noble, McCormick said he supports additional screening for violent sex offenders before they are released back into society.
“I think we need to do everything we can. We need to keep a close eye on them. It’s a terrible thing that happened,” he said.
“We need to do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Contact staff writer Beth Burger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.