The parole for a man who pleaded guilty in 2000 to raping and killing a woman nearly 30 years ago was rescinded Friday — two days before he was set for release from the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.
In a statement released by the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Samuel Galbraith will have to return to the state's parole board and ask for an early release again because Jessie McWilliams, the mother of his victim, wasn't properly notified of his parole hearing in November.
"During recent interviews with various media outlets, the victim's mother did state that her parole hearing notification letter for the originally scheduled October hearing was mailed to an address in Albany, New York rather than her address in Albany, Illinois," Sheryl Ranatza, chairwoman of the state's Parole Board, said in a prepared statement Friday from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The parole board therefore decided to hold another hearing for McWilliams and the Vernon Parish district attorney to participate.
News of his impending release was first reported by WBRZ-TV Thursday. McWilliams did not return several phone calls Friday seeking comment.
Galbraith, who is now 47 years old, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated rape in 2000 just days before his trial was set to begin in Vernon Parish on allegations he abducted Karen Hill, a 21 year-old convenience store clerk, and took her to a wooded area in the Kisatchie National Forest near the Fort Polk military base in 1988. After raping her, authorities said Galbraith, formerly of Aransas Pass, Texas, tied her to a tree and then shot her once in the left eye with a .22-caliber handgun.
Her body was discovered the following day.
He wasn't arrested until 1997 after authorities said they were able to link DNA evidence from the crime scene to Galbraith.
He was sentenced to 71 years in prison after taking a plea deal. He was set to be release from prison on Sunday.
Vernon Parish DA Asa Skinner said Friday that Galbraith admitted to detectives he killed Hill because he wanted to see what "it felt like."
"This was something he envisioned doing," Skinner said.
Skinner suspects Galbraith could also be responsible for two other cases similar to Hill's.
"We have two other women who were last seen at a convenience store before their bodies were found in the woods near the military base," he said. "All of this happened around the same time he was stationed at Fort Polk."
DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said Galbraith has served 17 years with the Department of Corrections and had already served three years in the Vernon Parish jail before his guilty plea.
In an interview with reporters Friday morning, Gov. John Bel Edwards was grilled about the parole board's Nov. 3 unanimous decision to grant Galbraith's early release. The governor is responsible for appointing the members that serve on the parole board.
"The law that allowed for parole consideration on this individual is an old law that is no longer on the books anyway," Edwards said. "I don't believe we should look at this one incident and one event and have it color everything."
The governor was referring to a state law that at the time Galbraith was sentenced gave first-time offenders the ability to seek parole once they reach the age of 45 and had served at least 20 years of their sentence. Edwards went on to point out that the law has been restructured today so that someone like Galbraith wouldn't even be eligible for parole.
"But when he was sentenced, the law was such that he could receive parole eligibility earlier," the governor said. "It's a different system than what we have now."
The possible parole of Galbraith came at a time when Edwards' administration and a majority of his Justice Reinvestment Task Force is recommending to legislators that they change state law to allow newly sentenced convicted criminals, including people accused of violent crimes, to be considered sooner for early release. Current law requires defendants convicted of violent crimes that are not life in prison to serve 75 percent of their sentences before they become parole eligible. One bill that could be considered by the Legislature would move the requirements before parole eligibility back to at least 20 years served in prison for an inmate who is at least 45 years old.
Advocate reporter Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.