- Cullman, Alabama

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March 1, 2006

Second man paroled

Board approves release of brother convicted in school fires

The second of three men convicted of the Labor Day 1996 crime spree that culminated in the burning of Dowling and West Point schools, has been granted early release from prison after serving 10 years of a 90-year sentence.

Melody Riendeau Beard, the mother of Mark Lee Riendeau, 26, said Wednesday God answered her prayer Monday when the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles approved her son's early release on his fourth try.

"I passed out in the hallway from the shock after the board announced they were releasing my son," said Beard, who resides in Blount County, but spends a good deal of her time seeing after her mother who lives in the Logan community.

"I just knew in my heart it would be no again, and then the parole board told us that Mark had completed everything that was required of him. The prison officials presented him as a role model. They said he had served his time and could come home," Beard said. "My prayers have been answered."

Beard said a condition of her son's release prevents him from physically returning to Cullman County for a period of five years.

"That's fine with me," Beard said. "All that matters is he's coming home. I don't care if he ever comes back to Cullman County."

Asked about her son's reaction when he learned he was being released from prison after nine years, Beard said he yelled out loud.

"He asked me if it was true and I told him yeah and he threw the phone up in the air. I heard him hollering on the other end," Beard said.

Mark Lee Riendeau is scheduled to be released from prison on March. 13. After that, Beard said he plans to live with his fiancee and begin a job in maintenance.

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