Crime & Courts

Parole denied for trooper's killer

Jimmie Nelms won't be eligible for parole again for 10 years, when he would be 74.

And that is a huge relief for Tanda Ulm, who got the news last week.

Thirty-three years ago, Ulm was married to Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Conroy O'Brien when, according to authorities, Nelms shot the trooper twice in the head with his own .357 Magnum after a traffic stop. At the time, Ulm was pregnant with a daughter her husband would never meet.

O'Brien was 26 and near the end of his shift on May 24, 1978, when he was murdered near the Matfield Green service area on the Kansas Turnpike.

In March, Ulm and others asked the Kansas Parole Board not to grant Nelms' release. She learned that the Parole Board received more than 1,000 letters, many from law enforcement agencies, urging the panel to keep Nelms, 64, in prison.

Because the board turned him down, Nelms — convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and unlawful possession of firearms — won't be eligible for parole until May 1, 2021.

The board has rejected Nelms several times since 1993. The 10-year period between now and his next consideration for parole is the longest Nelms will have to go between eligibility dates.

What has touched Ulm is how much the killing of O'Brien has resonated with people "and how many people knew him."

O'Brien grew up in Abbyville, about 20 miles southwest of Hutchinson, and played basketball and football at Fairfield High School and Sterling College.

According to authorities, O'Brien was overpowered after stopping Nelms and Walter Myrick, both of Tulsa, for speeding.

The men made O'Brien clasp his hands behind his head and ordered him to walk to a ditch and kneel down. He was shot execution-style, and, according to testimony, Nelms pulled the trigger.

A third defendant, Stanford Swain, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and testified for the prosecution. Myrick, who was convicted of murder along with Nelms, died in prison in 2009 at age 56. Nelms remains at Hutchinson Correctional Facility-East.