Relatives of Joel O’Keefe believe the notorious escapee is getting the “runaround” from state parole officials who have turned down five homes in Washington County where he could live after his release from prison.
Travis Jameson, an Argyle resident who is an in-law of O’Keefe’s, said the family has gone so far as proposing to put a cabin in Argyle in O’Keefe’s name, where he would live alone.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has denied the applications for a variety of reasons, disallowing a relative’s home in Hebron because a woman lived in one of the homes and others because the state claims relatives helped O’Keefe remain on the lam during his 1994 escape from State Police.
O’Keefe, 57, could have been released last Nov. 25 after serving more than 23 years, but amid backlash from police in the region who were concerned about him being on the street, the Corrections Department has declined to approve any of the places his family has found for him to live after his release. He will be on parole after his release.
The Corrections Department has not said publicly why the proposed homes were considered unsuitable and would not specifically discuss O’Keefe’s situation. The agency sent out a statement Tuesday saying it works with inmates and their families to find appropriate housing and works to find “alternatives” in the event of denials.
“Based on a variety of criteria, DOCCS carefully considers any residence proposed by an inmate and does not unnecessarily disapprove an address unless it is otherwise prohibited by law, is not in the best interest of safety for the public or the parolee or the residents of the proposed address do not want to have the inmate reside there,” the statement read.
A spokeswoman for the agency said last week that O’Keefe could be kept in prison until the end of his sentence in 2023, if he cannot find approved housing.
After a Post-Star article last week about the case, members of O’Keefe’s family contacted the paper with concerns that his continuing imprisonment is based on dubious justifications.
Jameson said O’Keefe’s past is wrongly having an impact on his release. O’Keefe was on the run for 13 days after bolting from State Police investigators in Ballston Spa and later pleaded guilty to felony counts of burglary, criminal possession of a weapon and escape. While in prison, he was charged in connection with three disciplinary problems that included three purported escape attempts and contraband cases, adding more time to his sentence.
Police have long considered him a “person of interest” in an unsolved 1988 homicide of two men in the town of Hartford, but he has not been charged. Police have renewed investigation of that case in light of O’Keefe’s possible release, but Jameson said O’Keefe maintains he had nothing to do with the deaths.
Jameson said the homes being offered for O’Keefe do not include any felons, firearms or dangerous dogs, which would make them unsuitable for parolee residence. The family suggested adding a woodstove to a vacant cabin and getting a certificate of occupancy, but that was denied as well.
Jameson, a contractor, said he was willing to deed a vacant cabin in Argyle to O’Keefe, but corrections officials told him that would not be suitable because of the ties to family members.
The family provided a series of tape-recorded phone calls between Jameson and state corrections officials, in which they discuss the rationale behind the decision to keep O’Keefe locked up at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York.
In one conversation, a parole official who was not identified said corrections officials believe “everybody kind of helped out with” O’Keefe remaining on the run, an accusation Jameson denied.
“Based on that, we don’t see it being conducive to our doing our job. For that reason, the address is being denied and you can propose a new one,” the parole official said on the recording. “The decision to deny that address was made above me.”
State Police tapped the phone lines of relatives at the time, and at one point, when some were talking about pizza being delivered, officers swarmed the home, believing that pizza was a code word for O’Keefe. So afterward, the family members again discussed “pizza” in a phone call to see what would happen, and it prompted another police intervention, Jameson said.
“No one in the family helped Joel,” he said.
Police visited O’Keefe in prison in recent months, asking him to take a polygraph test over unsolved crimes. O’Keefe refused, because he believed he wouldn’t be treated fairly, Jameson said.
Jameson said O’Keefe has a lawyer in the Syracuse area who is assisting him, but he is frustrated.
He said O’Keefe has completed all the necessary prison programs for release and is a changed man who wants to live a peaceful, quiet life.
“I told him, ‘Joel, maybe they are doing this to try to see if you will snap,’” Jameson said. “He’s disappointed, but he said, ‘Travis, I’ve been in here 25 years, I’m over all of this and just want to get out.”
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said his agency has played no part in O’Keefe’s possible parole and has only been told by the Corrections Department that police will be notified of when and where he will get out.
“We don’t say when or whether he gets released. It’s out of our hands, we don’t have any say in it,” he said.