Sept. 26 was going to be a day of joy for Garden Valley residents Mike and Lynn Tracy. Their granddaughter Leslie was expecting her first child and their first great-grandchild on that day.
Then they received the letter from the Department of Corrections informing them that the murderer of their only daughter, Toni Marie Johnson Parcell, had his first parole hearing on Sept. 26.
“I felt like it was one more thing he was taking away from us — being able to be there for the birth of our great-grandchild — when he’d already taken so much,” said Lynn Tracy, 66.
The Tracys are facing an ordeal, the like of which they couldn’t even imagine, but due to a few serendipitous events, they won’t face it alone.
“The last time we saw him was 15 years ago and I’ve tried to block things out and move on, but now we’re reliving the whole thing every minute of the day as we prepare for this,” said Lynn. She and husband Mike will be going to the Solano Prison to try to keep Toni’s murderer behind bars and it probably won’t be the only time they have to do this.
Harriet Salarno, founder of Crime Victims United of California, knows exactly what the Tracys are going through now and what they will face on Sept.26. Her daughter, Catina, a pre-med student at University of Pacific was murdered 32 years ago by a fellow student. She’s been to nine parole hearings to keep the perpetrator in prison and she knows that the deck is stacked in his favor. There isn’t much help from the judicial system for the family of the victim.
“The Tracys are going to go into the prison behind gate after gate; they’ll go to a small room with a table. Three parole commissioners will be there and the perpetrator and his attorney will sit at the table across from the Tracys. A district attorney will speak for the victim, then the attorney for the perpetrator will do his best to discredit everything the DA says. The commissioners will review the perpetrator’s file and the letters from the victims’ friends and family. The Tracys will give an impact statement and then their attorney will be the last to speak.”It’s not a trial. The prisoner isn’t sworn to tell the truth and they don’t,” said Salarno.
The Tracys will travel to the hearing at their own expense. They’ll be in the room for hours facing the man who murdered their daughter. During the long day, the prisoner will get breaks, he’ll be given a meal, but the victim’s family will not and they won’t be allowed to leave until a ruling has been made. If they want representation and a chance to refute what the perpetrator or what his attorney says, they have to pay for their own attorney – a recent right guaranteed by the passage of Proposition 9, Marsy’s Law, in 2008.
Most crime victim’s families are unaware of their rights, said Salarno, something the Crime Victims United of California is trying to change through educating crime victim families about their rights in the judicial system and using legislative advocacy and political action to give victims a voice. The group fought for the passage of Marsy’s Law, which includes a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, one of which is the right to be notified with regard to perpetrators being let out on bail, criminal justice proceedings and parole hearings.
“The Board of Parole commissioners will evaluate him on what he’s done in prison and whether he shows remorse,” said Mike. “We don’t care about remorse. We don’t have our daughter. Having to justify the way we feel and why it bothers us in front of that man is just wrong.”
In March 1996 Toni Marie Johnson Parcell, 32, was leaving her abusive boyfriend, William Ray Hall Jr. She had already given notice to her landlord and put her things in storage. Her children Leslie, 13 and Kyle, 12, were with their father. Mike and Lynn Tracy received a call from one of Toni’s neighbors saying she hadn’t shown up for her work as a waitress and no one had been in the San Bernardino County home for days.
“We called her kids, but they hadn’t heard from her,” said Lynn. “She would never have left without talking to them.”
Mike drove to the apartment and found only a few of Toni’s things she hadn’t yet packed. They notified the police and a two-week search ensued with the Tracys and friends doing much of the leg work of talking to all Toni’s friends, going to every place she was associated with, putting up fliers and even renting a helicopter to look for her missing truck.
They had met Toni’s boyfriend only once, four months earlier, on Christmas. Toni told them he had no family, so the Tracys included him in their family Christmas. “He was like Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver,” said Lynn. “Very, very polite, but he gave me the creeps.” They had no idea of his abuse of Toni until after the murder.
One of Hall’s friends saw a flier with Toni’s picture. Another friend remembered Hall saying he had killed Toni, but thought he was joking. They remembered a place in the mountains where they had all gone target practising. The friends told police and on Easter Sunday, Lynn received a call from the coroner’s office that Toni’s body had been found.
Hall was arrested and eventually confessed to Toni’s murder.
“He said they had a fight and he strangled her. Then he put her in the back of her truck and drove to the mountains and threw her body down a 75-foot embankment. Then he drove to a friend’s house, borrowed a shotgun, drove back and shot her in the head,” said Mike.
Hall pleaded guilty to second degree murder and received a sentence of 15 years to life and four years for use of a firearm.With credit for time served before sentencing, he is up for parole after only 15 years.
In April Lynn told Toni’s story to an audience at the Center for Violence-Free Relationships in Placerville, hoping that it would give at least one person the courage to leave an abusive relationship. Two women each gave her business cards with attorney Nina Salarno’s name on them. A few weeks later, almost the 15th anniversary of when the Tracys were notified that Toni’s body had been found, they attended the annual Crime Victims March at the state capital and found that the speaker was Nina Salarno, Harriet Salarno’s daughter, the sister of Catina Salarno, attorney, and former director of the Office of Victim’s Services.
The Tracys told Salarno of the upcoming parole hearing and Salarno told them about CVUC and agreed to represent the Tracys at the parole hearing. Harriet Salarno and Kelli Reid of CVUC will also be there for support. “Without them we would have been blindsided and completely unprepared,” said Lynn. “We were in the right place at the right time.”
Lynn worries whether Toni’s children, Kyle, now 27, and Leslie, 28, will ever have a normal life. “They won’t talk about her or share memories about her. They are angry that she left them. I bought the transcripts of the trial in case they ever wanted to know, but they don’t talk about it. They’ve both gone through periods of drug and alcohol abuse.”
Mike’s only son committed suicide seven weeks after Toni’s death, Lynn lost her job of 30 years with a medical office as the result of the murder and the Tracys eventually sold their Southern California home and moved to Garden Valley to be closer to their son and his children.
“I have no one who will say her name. It’s so terrible never to hear your child’s name again,” said Lynn.”There are no words to describe what the effect has been on us. The nightmares I used to have about her calling for me and me not being able to get to her have started again.”
Surprisingly, Kyle has chosen to attend the parole hearing with his grandparents. Another surprise attendee will be Toni’s biological father. Her brother, a Sacramento fire captain will also be in attendance. Mike has a seven-page impact statement he plans to read and Lynn plans to record her statement so that it can be heard at future parole hearings in the event that something should happen to her.
“We are terrified that he could hire someone from prison to hurt us,” said Lynn, “but I promised my daughter that I would do whatever I could to keep her killer in prison.”
If the prisoner is given parole, his release comes a year after the hearing. If parole is denied, he will be given another hearing in three, five, seven, 10 or 15 years, depending on the decision of the Board of Parole commissioners. The possibility of longer intervals between parole hearings is another outcome of Marsy’s Law.
Emma, the Tracy’s great-grandchild and Toni’s first grandchild was born the first week in September, giving the Tracys a chance to spend a week getting to know her. Her grandmother’s murderer didn’t get a chance to take everything away.
Although letters supporting a decision to deny parole for William Ray Hall Jr. may not be able to be processed for the parole hearing at this late date, Harriet Salarno said they may still be helpful.
Persons wishing to write letters in support of denying parole for William Ray Hall Jr. may address their letters to :
Solano State Prison, PO Box 4000, Vacaville 95696, Attn: Classification and Parole Representatives.
For more information about Crime Victims United of California, visit the Website crimevictimsunited.com