State parole board backs release for killer in 1980 Santa Rosa stabbing
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 5:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 1:21 p.m.
The blow Gail Case Currier took Thursday was nothing compared to what she suffered in her living room before dawn on Nov. 23, 1980, when she screamed as a Santa Rosa street crook stabbed her husband again and again.
Still, Currier said that receiving word that the state parole board voted Wednesday to release killer Roger Lee Hill from prison hurt plenty.
"I'm disappointed that he's not going to die in prison," Currier, 73, said from her longtime home in Orange County. "And I'm sad that you guys are going to get him."
Hill, who wasn't yet 24 when he slipped into the westside mobile home the Curriers had rented and is now 56, has told state corrections officials he will return to Sonoma County to live with relatives.
The vote of the parole board will go later this spring to Gov. Jerry Brown, whose options include reversing the decision to release Hill.
Hill was sentenced to 26 years to life for the murder of glass installer Ralph Currier, 47. He became eligible for parole in the late 1990s, but parole panels repeatedly found him unsuitable for release -- until Jan. 9.
A two-person parole panel convened at the state prison in Vacaville that day and considered how Hill has conducted and attempted to improve himself through his nearly 31 straight years of incarceration. The parole commissioner and deputy commissioner split on whether to grant Hill parole.
That 1-1 decision went Wednesday to the monthly meeting of the Board of Parole Hearings in Sacramento. Meeting in closed session, commissioners voted that Hill is now suitable for parole.
Unless Brown overturns or amends that decision, Hill could be released in June.
For years at his parole hearings, Hill declared to commissioners he was changed and ready to return to society. Positive reports from prison staff recounted that he had maintained good behavior, learned a marketable skill -- making optical lenses -- and come to accept responsibility for his crimes.
Despite the personal progress Hill has made after spending nearly 60 percent of his life in prison, Gail Currier said she doubts he is prepared to meet the challenges and temptations of life beyond the walls.
"What happens when he goes out there?" she said.
Although partially disabled by a stroke many years ago, Currier traveled to Vacaville about seven times over the past dozen or so years to attend Hill's parole hearings. She often submitted petitions urging that her husband's killer not be paroled. She appreciated that Sonoma County prosecutors consistently attended the hearings and urged that Hill remains a threat to society.
The Curriers were new to Santa Rosa in fall 1980. They'd left Orange County, where construction activity had slowed, and come north after Ralph Currier was told that a union glazier could find work in the Bay Area.
Early the Sunday morning of Nov. 23, Gail Currier arose from bed to use the bathroom. She spotted a slight, young man in the living room and screamed.
Her husband rushed in and the intruder pulled a knife and stabbed him 17 times. Ralph Currier died later that morning at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
A tip from an informant led detectives to Hill and the discovery of his tennis shoes. The soles matched bloody prints left at the Curriers' home.
Hill was well known to local officers. A thief, he had been arrested more than 15 times since his 18th birthday.
Just a month before he killed Ralph Currier, Hill sat in the Sonoma County Jail, charged with a violent attack on a woman at the "T" where Guerneville Road ends at Highway 116, near Forestville. His car had tapped the back bumper of the woman's car, then he'd approached her, leaned in through her window and struck her with his fists.
That happened in September of 1980. Upon his arrest by a sheriff's detective, Hill was jailed and his bail set at $30,000. Prosecutors and sheriff's officials urged that Hill's bail not be lowered. But his deputy public defender argued before late Judge Rex Sater that Hill had lived his entire life in Sonoma County and was not a flight risk, so his bail should be released.
Sater agreed, saying although he was "worried about his (Hill's) continual problems with the law," he had to set bail not on the basis of the seriousness of the alleged assault but on the perceived likelihood that Hill would appear for court dates.
Sater reduced the bail to $2,500. Two days later -- on Oct. 30, 1980 -- Hill posted a bond and was free.
Twenty-four days after that, Ralph Currier was dead.
Hill denied the crime for years. Since coming clean, he stated at parole hearings that he intended to steal the Ford Mustang in the driveway when he entered the mobile home through an unlocked sliding door.
You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at at 521-5211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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