A swell of anguish washes over Barbara Goff each time a letter from the New York State Board of Parole arrives at her Florida home.
It’s been nearly 38 years since her 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer Goff, a seventh-grade honors student and violinist, was murdered just weeks before Christmas while walking to her Nesconset home from a shopping trip.
Robert Turley, then a 26-year-old furniture maintenance worker, was convicted at trial of the Dec. 9, 1984, attempted rape and strangulation murder of Jennifer. He is serving 25 years to life in an upstate prison. While he’s been denied parole several times previously, he’s scheduled to appear before the state parole board this week for what will be his eighth attempt at freedom.
'It’s not just that I have to relive the absence of Jennifer in my life; I have to relive her death.'
-Barbara Goff, her mother
“It’s not just that I have to relive the absence of Jennifer in my life; I have to relive her death,” said Goff, 76, of Cocoa, Florida. “No one should have to do that.”
Jennifer’s loved ones said they’re frustrated with the process and spoke out publicly to Newsday ahead of his next parole board hearing in hopes of ensuring Turley stays behind bars.
Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney submitted a letter to the parole board last month, urging the panel to keep Turley, 63, incarcerated at the medium-security Wyoming Correctional Facility in Attica.
“There is no doubt that the ferocity of the attack was due in part to this defendant’s inability to satisfy his depraved and all-consuming violent sexual desire for young children,” Tierney wrote.
“As such, if released, the defendant would pose a serious threat to young women and, given his demonstrated inability to contain these urges, the risk that he will reoffend in a similarly brutally violent fashion is self-evident.”
While Turley was denied parole following his most recent hearing — his seventh since he first became eligible for parole in 2009, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision — he appealed the decision and was granted a de novo hearing, which is essentially a do-over.
An attorney for Turley could not be reached for comment.
Jennifer’s childhood friend Annie Horsky-McDonnell, 52, of Mastic, said she submitted to the parole board a petition she organized against Turley’s release with about 300 signatures.
“It would be such a travesty if he gets out,” said Horsky-McDonnell.
During his most recent hearing on Aug. 17, 2021, Turley told the board he felt “remorseful” but also said he maintained his innocence, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Jennifer had attended mass that morning and was seen by witnesses around 3 p.m. as she walked home from a nearby drugstore, where she had gone to do some Christmas shopping, according to news accounts at the time. Turley worked at a furniture store in the same shopping center.
Her body was found hours later in a wooded area midway between the shopping center and her home. She had been strangled with a piece of material from the dress she was wearing — the same clothing she had worn to church. She was bloodied as a result of having been struck in the face and head with a rock.
Turley confessed to killing Jennifer to Suffolk police following his arrest, but testified in his own defense at his trial that he stumbled upon her body after she was already dead. The scratches on Turley’s hands and face at the time — which prosecutors said were defense wounds caused by Jennifer fighting for her life — were caused when he was mugged, Turley testified. Turley’s lawyer argued he had been coerced into falsely admitting to the crime. Prosecutors said Turley’s blood was found on Jennifer’s clothing.
“I feel very remorseful,” Turley said at the 2021 parole board hearing, according to the transcript. “I know what the family has lost. It’s an emptiness that can never be replaced no matter how much you punish or how much you give.”
While Turley told the board he had learned to read and completed his high school education while in prison, he said he was refusing the corrections department’s recommendation that he complete sex offender treatment. “I have no attraction to 12-year-old girls,” Turley told the board.
In denying Turley’s parole, the board cited Jennifer’s age and Turley’s “cruel and violent conduct” during and after the crime. The board also said it considered “the irreparable harm and lifetime of suffering you brought to the victim’s family and community,” the letter from the DA and Turley’s refusal to complete mandatory programs while in prison.
“If released there is a reasonable probability that you will not live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that your release would be incompatible with the welfare of society,” the board said, according to the transcript.
Bev Warnock, executive director of Parents of Murdered Children, said the parole process is daunting for victims' families. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based nonprofit support network, started in 1978, operates a “parole block” program in the form of letter-writing campaigns and petitions.
The organization has pushed to block the granting of parole in 1,779 cases in which family members have requested the group intervene. It is not involved in Turley’s parole bid but has received criticism by some defense attorneys for its organized tactics in opposing parole.
“The parole hearings just devastate the families,” Warnock said. “When you have a child or a loved one killed, it feels never-ending. You go through the trial, then the sentencing. And then you have to go through parole hearings time after time."
Goff said the frequency of Turley’s parole board hearings — about every two years — has brought an-almost constant stream of stress and worry.
“The idea that this has to go on every two years is enough to make you crazy," she said. "But to think he would actually be released would make you even crazier.”
Goff, who works as a school nurse, said she’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of Jennifer’s killing. Just the sight of low-flying aircraft, or barking dogs, “brings me right back to that moment,” when police helicopters and K-9s were searching for Jennifer.
Goff’s son, Kevin, was 9 when his sister was killed. The Merritt Island, Florida, resident, now 46, said his sister’s murder gave him a heightened sense of concern for his own children.
“I personally don’t think he should ever be released,” Kevin Goff said.
About four years after Jennifer was killed, Barbara Goff's husband, Peter, died following an illness. Goff and her son moved first to Bellport and eventually to Florida for a new start.
“My biggest thing was, I said, ‘I will not allow Robert Turley to take away my ability to smile and see rainbows,’ ” Goff said. “My son was so young. I said, ‘I can’t be a mother crying in a tissue all the time.’ ”