Survivors of two Sonoma County people brutally slain more than a quarter of a century ago journeyed Thursday to Vacaville, hoping to look at the killers while describing the anguish they caused and urging that they remain locked away.
The widow of Ralph Currier, who was stabbed to death by an intruder in the couples' Santa Rosa home in 1980, received some satisfaction at a parole hearing at State Prison Solano. Relatives of the Linda Bunke, the Petaluma mother who died followed a beating by her estranged husband in 1982, received less.
But ultimately, both sets of survivors greeted the outcome they'd hoped for. The two-person parole panel that convened within the sprawling hillside prison denied parole to both of the Sonoma County killers, Roger Lee Hill and Larry Bunke.
The murder cases had no connection, nor do inmates Hill, 52, and Bunke, 51. Commissioner Arthur Anderson and Deputy Commissioner Robert Harmon bunch the hearings that emanate from the same county so that county prosecutors who drive to the prison — generally, to oppose parole — can handle more than one case per trip.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment in Thursday's two hearings came as Currier's widow, Gail Case Currier, briefly spoke. As she had at past years' parole hearings for inmate Hill, she said she doesn't believe he should yet be released. As she spoke, she sat at the end of a table with the commissioners to her right, and, a few feet to her left, the former Santa Rosa man who knifed her husband to death before her eyes 29 years ago.
"I don't in my heart believe that he is ready to go out in the world," said Currier, who uses an electric scooter because of difficulty walking and who traveled from Orange County, where she now lives.
She'd begun another sentence in opposition to parole for Hill when she stopped and addressed him directly.
"Thank you for looking at me," the widow said to the convicted killer, who was 23 at the time of the crime and has now spent more years in prison than out. "This is the first time you have looked at me."
Hill, who'd already used his opportunity to speak, asked Commissioner Anderson if he might say a few more words. Anderson said it was unusual request, but yes.
Hill looked again to Gail Currier as he said, "I was always instructed that we're not to look at you. That's why I didn't look at you."
Commissioners deliberated in private for only a few minutes before Anderson announced that parole is denied because in his and Harmon's judgment, Hill still minimizes what he did in the Currier's mobile home and he continues to pose an unreasonable risk to society.
Harmon softened the blow by acknowledging to Hill that he has been a good prisoner, has mastered eyeglass lens-making as a possible career and has shown progress in exhibiting that he's gained insight into why he killed Ralph Currier.
"You're on the right track," Harmon told the inmate, who's now been denied paroled several times. "I wouldn't want to you leave here thinking you're not on the right track, because you are."
For the hearing that followed Hill's, two sisters and two other female relatives of the slain Linda Bunke came prepared to read letters condemning her killer and former husband as an unrepentant monster.