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The Day John Lennon’s Killer, Mark David Chapman, Was Denied Parole for the First Time

John Lennon Mark David Chapman
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the fall of 2000, Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, came up for parole for the first time after having been sentenced to 20 years to life at New York’s Attica prison. On Oct. 3, the New York State Parole Board rejected his petition.

According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the board noted that, despite Chapman’s record of good behavior, one particular aspect of Chapman hadn’t changed. “Your most vicious and violent act was apparently fueled by your need to be acknowledged,” the board wrote. “During your parole hearing, this panel noted your continued interest in maintaining your notoriety.” They added that sending him back into the world would “deprecate the seriousness of the crime and serve to undermine respect for the law.”

The hearing lasted 50 minutes, and the three-member panel announced their decision four hours later.

As his hearing neared, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, penned a long, impassioned letter to the New York State Parole Board saying why he should not be let free. The full text can be found below, but she wrote that “the memory of that night has never left me for the last 20 years” and that, if Chapman were to be released, it would be an injustice to the world and a message “to the others who would like to follow in the footsteps of the ‘subject’ to receive world attention.”

She concluded by saying that, if paroled, Chapman would be the target of threats from Lennon’s fans who also haven’t forgotten his actions and that despite all the pain he’s caused her, she doesn’t want to see that happen. “Violence begets violence,” she wrote. “If it is at all possible, I would like us to not create a situation which may bring further madness and tragedy to the world.”

Chapman has come up for parole every two years, most recently in 2014, with similar language being used with each denial.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Parole Board:

This is my reply to the petition of parole made by Mark David Chapman from here on called “the subject.”

It is not easy for me to write this letter to you since it is still painful for me to think of what happened that night and verbalize my thoughts logically.

Forgive me if I fall short of your expectation of giving you a satisfactory opinion. But these are my sincere thoughts.

My husband John Lennon was a very special man. A man of humble origin, he brought light and hope to the whole world with his words and music.

He tried to be a good power for the world, and he was. He gave encouragement, inspiration and dreams to people regardless of their race, creed and gender.

For me, he was the other half of the sky. We were in love with each other like the most vehement of lovers to the last moment.

For our son Sean he was the world. That world shattered when the “subject” pulled the trigger.

For Julian, it was losing his father twice.

For the people of the world, it was as though the light went out for a moment and darkness prevailed.

With his one act of violence in those few seconds, the “subject” managed to change my whole life, devastate his sons, and bring deep sorrow and fear to the world.

It was, indeed, the power of destruction at work.

At first, I had refused to acknowledge John’s death. I announced that, “There is no funeral for John.” In my mind, I was saying “BECAUSE HE IS NOT DEAD!” “Tell me he is not dead, tell me he is not dead.”

I was screaming inside myself.

But then, I started to hear that young girls were jumping off buildings to kill themselves.

I realized then that it was not a time for me to simply wallow in my own pain. I organized a world vigil with the prayer that, together, we would somehow get through.

For the past 20 years, I’ve carried the torch John and I once carried together to try to let the darkness go.

I asked the fans to remember John’s birthday, not the day of his passing.

When people asked how I felt about the killer of my husband, I have always told them that I didn’t think about that day anymore.

I wanted to look to the future, and not to remember that horrible moment.

But in actual fact, the memory of that night has never left me for the last 20 years. It was so cruel. So unjust. My husband did not deserve this.

He was in no way ready to die. He was feeling good with the prospect of doing a concert tour after making the album which became his last.

He would have gladly changed his position with the “subject,” and live the life of protection that the “subject” enjoys now.

Even in confinement, my husband John would have cherished hearing voices of people he loved, enjoyed creating songs, and simply appreciated watching the sky and its changes through the seasons.

John cannot do any of that now.

I am afraid it will bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion once again

His family and the world rested because justice was finally done by the court. The “subject” was imprisoned.

If he were to be released now, many will feel betrayed. Anger and fear would rise again.

It would also give a “go” signal to the others who would like to follow in the footsteps of the “subject” to receive world attention.

I am afraid it will bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion once again.

Myself and John’s two sons, would not feel safe for the rest of our lives. People who are in positions of high visibility and outspokenness such as John, would also feel unsafe.

Finally, it will not be safe for the “subject” himself. He will cease to have the security that the State provides him now.

I understand that he has been isolated from other prisoners because of the threat of possible harm to him. Well, there are more people in the outside world who are strongly distressed about what he has done.

They would feel that it is unfair that the “subject” is rewarded with a normal life while John lost his.

Violence begets violence. If it is at all possible, I would like us to not create a situation which may bring further madness and tragedy to the world.

I thank you in advance for your wise and just decision.

I am, Sincerely yours,

Yoko Ono Lennon

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