After Melba Gray was murdered in Idaho in 1970, Danny Williams pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. However, a parole board released him seven years later.
“We had no idea he was getting out on parole,” said Mabel Kite, the victim’s twin sister.
“We didn’t even know he was out of prison until we heard that Francis was murdered,” said Cindy Trappen, Gray’s daughter.
“We didn’t have a clue,” Kite said.
They said they learned of Williams’ whereabouts after Francis Ellifson was murdered in her home at 2346 N. Jackson in Wichita in 1982 under nearly identical circumstances as the Melba Gray case.
About 40 relatives and friends of both victims went to the Finney State Office Building in downtown Wichita on Wednesday to ask the Kansas Prisoner Review Board to keep Williams in prison.
The similarities between the cases are notable, the review board was told. Both women were several years older than Williams when they died. Both lived near Williams. Both were stabbed to death. Each was removed from her home by her killer. Ellifson, 47, was in her backyard as police closed in. Gray, 32, was probably dead before she was tied to a railroad track and run over by a train.
“I can’t cross a train track or hear a train without remembering my sister,” Kite told the board. “This was a heartless, brutal murder.”
Williams was found guilty by a Sedgwick County jury of first-degree murder in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison. He has been denied parole three times.
At his last hearing, the Kansas Parole Board passed him for four years, noting that “The community has been exceedingly opposed to the inmate’s release; the inmate’s crimes resulted in multiple victims and caused lasting impact on those victims; the inmate has not demonstrated behavioral insights necessary to decrease his risk to re-offend; the inmate has not demonstrated insight(s) into his offense behavior; inmate has indicated a pattern behavior indicative of increased risk to re-offend.”
Williams, 60, is a low- to medium-security inmate at the Lansing Correctional Facility. He was one of 21 inmates who were on board’s agenda Wednesday.
Board member Kathleen Graves told those in attendance that the board would meet with the 21 inmates in prison next month and issue a decision about a month after that.
Former Wichita police Officer Ron Spurgeon, who arrested Williams in 1982, told the board that several of those at the meeting traveled hundreds of miles at their own expense to attend the hearing. Kite, the twin sister of the Idaho victim, now lives in Nevada. Trappen, the daughter, still lives in Idaho.
Among the local residents attending the hearing was Wichita lawyer David Moses, who prosecuted Williams in 1982.
“As you can tell, we’re not getting any younger,” Moses told the board. “There are people here in their 80s. There’s a real fear that their voices will not be heard someday, and there’s nothing to say he won’t kill a third time.
“I would encourage you to pass him as far as you can so these people can rest assured for at least that period of time. He should not be given another chance to kill again.”