The decision came after a brief hearing Tuesday, in which relatives of 52-year-old Karen McPherson sought her release.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said he was pleased with the parole board’s decision.
“I feel the decision is a relief for the Smith family, their friends and the community,” he said. “Carrie’s disappearance has been a long and tiring ordeal.”
McPherson pleaded guilty in 1991 to charges that she helped with the abduction of Carrie Smith Lawson from her home in Jasper, about 40 miles northwest of Birmingham. McPherson's cousin, Jerry Bland, was considered the main suspect in the case and shot himself to death in his home as police converged outside.
Rowland said he flew to Jasper shortly after the kidnapping where he saw “the love from the community for the Smith family. They were serving prepared food for the searchers. It was just refreshing to see our local people there helping in any way they could.”
Investigators searching Bland's property found most of the $300,000 that was paid in ransom by her family, but they never found any trace of Lawson. She was 25 at the time and a recent graduate of the University of Alabama law school.
A judge declared Lawson legally dead two years after her disappearance.
On Tuesday, relatives of the missing woman opposed McPherson's release, as did the Alabama Attorney General's office.
Lawson's sister, Margaret Kubiszyn, said she was pleased with the decision. Friends and supporters sent "boxes of letters" to the board urging members to deny parole, she said.
One letter was sent by a retired teacher and friend of Lawson’s mother, Harriett Smith.
Susan Peay wrote that she taught alongside Lawson's mother, who is now deceased.
“It was my pleasure to have taught with her as well as enjoying her family's company at social events,” Peay wrote. “She was the teacher ... every child wanted to have. What this family has gone through is unimaginable.
“Families lose children through illness or accident, but this was not the case for David and Margaret. Their daughter Carrie was taken, never to be heard from again.
“They had no body to grieve over. Only the memory and the agony of wondering what happened to Carrie and what she had to endure.
“The last time I saw Harriet Smith was in a nursing home. Who is to say that she would not have ended up there but I believe she was there because of losing Carrie.
“Karen McPherson does not deserve a parole,” Peay wrote.
McPherson has claimed she didn't know what happened to Lawson and has been trying to get of prison since shortly after she received a life term.
Kubiszyn has said McPherson is likely the "last link" to finding out what happened to her sister.
"I don't think she knows where Carrie is. I think she might know of other people who were involved who could lead us to that," Kubiszyn said.
Kubiszyn said her family's fight to keep McPherson in prison isn't over. She becomes eligible for parole again in 2018.
"We'll have to do it again in five years," Kubiszyn said.
Rowland said there were a lot of prayers offered from their home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
“And I know there were prayers offered in the days before the parole hearing,” the mayor said.
Kelly DeLude, a stylist at Style Masters Hair Salon, said she remembers seeing Harriett Smith come to the salon.
“Carrie’s mother would always come into the salon and whenever there was a little girl, I noticed she would always stop to talk to them and smile.
“I could just see it in her eyes that she really missed her daughter. It was always just heartbreaking for me.
“She was just such a sweet lady and you could just see the sadness in her eyes.”