NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is granting parole to a man serving a life sentence in a 1994 murder-for-hire, saying the inmate has "undergone a transformation" behind bars. But a woman he shot and partially blinded in the attack says she's terrified she might encounter him again once he's out.
Among his final 20 pardons and three commutations Friday, the outgoing Republican governor commuted Jeremy Michael Ingram's life sentence to parole supervision starting next January.
Ingram was 18 when he was paid $10,000 by Gina Sanjines' ex-husband to kill her in the Chattanooga area, court documents say. Sanjines was shot in the head three times but survived, with permanent blindness in her left eye, among other lifelong ailments. Ingram fatally shot her boyfriend, Virgil Schrag, who prosecutors say wasn't expected to be in the house when Ingram went to kill Sanjines.
Haslam's office said Ingram, now 43, has undergone a transformation and will have additional supervision conditions, including work, education and community service requirements. The governor cited Ingram's four higher-education degrees and his participation in rehabilitation and faith-based programs.
But Sanjines says she's unconvinced. She said Ingram was interested in padding his clemency resume, not showing remorse to her family.
Last month, the state Board of Parole denied Ingram's case during an initial parole hearing last month due to the "seriousness of the offense," said board spokeswoman Melissa McDonald.
Ingram received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He has been in prison since 1994.
"I am petrified to have to run into a man who didn't think my life was worth more than $10,000, and we're in a very small town," Sanjines said in an interview. She also held a news conference Friday.
Ingram was praised in 26 letters of support for his application for a lesser sentence. The application also says Ingram plans to live in Knoxville with a family that belongs to the same church, and plans to get a job. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.
In the application, Ingram says he wasn't strong enough to withstand the "evil influence and manipulation" of Sanjines' husband, Jorge Ariel Sanjines, who was sentenced to life in prison.
"Mr. Ingram's offense was horrible, but his exceptional growth over the last 25 years has prepared him to be a positive contributor to society," Haslam wrote in his commutation.
C.N. Willborn, a senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, was among the community leaders, corrections staffers and volunteers, and family members who vouched for Ingram. Willborn wrote in 2015 that Ingram's "desire to teach, counsel and do good to all around him is evidence of repentance."
But Sanjines wrote in a victim impact statement that because of the shooting, she remains afraid of the dark, has nightmares about Ingram and sees boogeymen around every corner. She wrote that Ingram still has family in the Chattanooga area, where she lives. Two of her grown children, who were 5 and 6 at the time of the shooting, also expressed their fears in victim impact letters.
Arianna Sanjines wrote that regular citizens are required to finish school and have jobs and Ingram hasn't done anything extraordinary that any other person in jail for 25 years wouldn't have done. The daughter wrote that Ingram stole her childhood, her future, her family and her life, and hasn't reached out to apologize, either.
"I learned at a very young age (five years old) that monsters are real, and one of them is named Jeremy Ingram," she wrote.
Haslam is set to transfer power Saturday to Gov.-elect Bill Lee, and is mulling a U.S. Senate run. The outgoing governor has granted nine commutations, 35 pardons, and one exoneration.
He drew global praise from celebrities, human-trafficking victim advocates and others for his recent decision to grant clemency for Cyntoia Brown, a woman who killed a man when she was a 16-year-old prostitute.