Kan. cop killer seeks parole — friends, family, and fellow-LEOs stand opposed
Even as parole is denied to Ill. cop killer Henry Michael Gargano, another murder, Jimmy K. Nelms seeks freedom despite having only served 33 years of his '45 years to life' sentence
May 17, 2011 Update & Editor’s Note: We did it again. In March, I asked law enforcers to submit comments and mail letters to the Kansas Parole Board in an effort to keep a convicted cop killer behind bars. All in, some 1,000+ letters were sent, among them more than 250 comments from P1 members. Moments ago, I received word that because of this volume of support for the family of Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Conroy O'Brien, the board ruled that Jimmy K. Nelms shall remain in prison for at least another 10 years (the maximum that could be ruled, and double the norm). Kelvin O’Brien, brother of the LEO hero who was killed in the small hours of May 24, 1978, said to me today, “I can't tell you how much our family appreciates what you did through the PoliceOne network. Thank you for a job well done.” To this I can only reply, “Thank you, sir, for your continued bravery in the fight for justice. We’ve got your back.”
— PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie
Good news and bad news today folks — I’ll begin with the good news. In early December 2010, I wrote a column about the proposed hearing for ‘special reconsideration’ for Henry Michael Gargano, who during the commission of a 1967 bank robbery murdered Sergeant John Nagle and Officer Anthony Perri of the Northlake (Ill.) PD, and wounded two other officers. This morning I received word from my friend and colleague Chuck Remsberg that late last week, Gargano’s bid for parole was denied. A news report in the Chicago Tribune specifically mentioned that the possibility of his being paroled “generated outrage from law enforcement and the public.”
Meanwhile — yes, now for the bad news — today I spoke via telephone with the brother of Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Conroy O'Brien, a young law enforcer who was murdered by Jimmy Nelms during a vehicle stop in the small hours of May 24, 1978. Trooper O’Brien had served with that agency for four years, and was survived by his expectant wife.
“The man who murdered my brother is up for parole,” Kelvin O’Brien told me today. “Under the current sentencing guidelines, Jimmy K. Nelms would be executed for this crime. However, as a result of the sentencing guidelines in 1978, he first became eligible for parole in 1993 — just 15 years into his sentence — and every five years he comes up for parole. He has been in prison for 33 years and I feel the longer this goes on, the more likely he is to be paroled.”
O’Brien told me that his brother was near the end of his shift when he stopped a vehicle for speeding, and that among the three passengers was a parolee (Nelms), an escaped convict from Georgia named Walter Myrick, and a third individual who apparently did not participate in the killing.
“Myrick died in prison in 2009, and the one who turned states evidence was released from prison after seven years,” O’Brien explained to me. “The ring leader of the group was Nelms. Nelms is the one who pulled the trigger. Nelms walked Conroy into that ditch and pistol whipped him — leaving fractured skull from the whipping. Nelms tried to get my brother to beg for his life and then shot him twice in the head with a .357 magnum. Nelms spit on Conroy while he lay dying in that ditch at mile marker 94.5 on the Kansas Turnpike.”
Get ready for more outrage my friends. Nelms was on parole when he murdered Trooper O’Brien. What sane person could argue that granting parole to this cop killer will result in anything but needlessly jeopardizing the public?
Lovelle Mixon was on parole when he murdered Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sgt. Daniel Sakai, and Sgt. Ervin Romans of the Oakland (Calif.) Police Department in March 2009. Maurice Clemmons, who had been paroled in 2004, murdered Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officer Ronald Owens, Officer Tina Griswold, and Officer Greg Richards of the Lakewood (Wash.) Police Department in November 2009. Neither Mixon nor Clemmons was a convicted cop killer, and yet each one went on to kill four American law enforcers (each!) after being granted parole. What do parole boards think will happen when they contemplate — and God forbid, grant — parole to men like Jimmy K. Nelms, who has already been convicted of killing a police officer?
“No doubt, if Nelms is released, every law enforcement officer will be put at risk if they cross this man’s path,” O’Brien told me.
I first received word of this potential travesty of justice from PoliceOne Member Ryan McNeil, a law enforcer in the state of Kansas who reached out to me today via email. McNeil said, in part, “I personally feel that this man — using the tern ‘man’ loosely — should never see the light of day as a free man and think that many of the members of PoliceOne will agree.”
You’ve got that right brother. During the course of the past year or so, PoliceOne members have helped in the successful prevention of a handful of parole requests made by cop killers across the nation. In the case of Gargano in December, we generated nearly 300 member comments — which I personally printed up and sent via FedEx to the parole board — and countless calls and emails directly to the parole board itself.
Back — briefly — to subject of Michael Gargano, who is now 79 years old and ailing in prison. U.S. Parole Commission Chairman Isaac Fulwood Jr. said in a prepared statement that Gargano’s prison record and his “lack of remorse for the crimes that led to his imprisonment” were evidence enough that “his release would be incompatible with public safety.”
I’m told that this cop killer can request parole consideration again in 2013 and that this could go on every two years. Regardless, Joseph Nagle — son of one of the slain officers — recently said, “If it comes up again, we’ll show up again and fight the same fight.”
Let’s not rest on our laurels with our victory in Illinois, for there is work to be done in Kansas.
Longtime readers of this space already know what to do. For those of you who are new to the program, here’s how it generally works. You’ve got three basic options for voicing your opinion to the parole board.
1.) Post a petition at roll call and send it to the address below — this is generally the most successful tactic because you can write just one letter and collect dozens, if not even hundreds, of signatures from your PD
2.) Send a personal letter to the address below — these work really well too, and give you the freedom to say exactly what you want in the language of your choosing
3.) Post your name, PD, and thoughts on this issue in the comments field below, and on April 26th I will compile and send those (en masse via FedEx) to Ms. Marotta at the Kansas Dept. of Corrections
In the case of submitting comments about Jimmy Nelms, we have a fourth option. My friend David Demurjian — a law enforcer from a large agency in Southern California and author of a P1 First Person Essay posted back in October 2010 — has found a direct web link for the Kansas Department of Corrections.
“Have everyone send it to the attention of Robert Sanders, the Chairman of the B of P,” Dave told me via email.
Time is of the essence on this one — Nelms could be released as early as May 1, 2011.
Kansas Parole Board
Office of Victim Services
Attn: Kimberly Marotta
Kansas Dept. of Corrections
900 SW Jackson Suite 400
Topeka, KS 66612
“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your assistance,” said Kelvin O’Brien. “Kimberly Marotta is with the victims services and she will take and hand deliver all letters personally to each of the three board members. Only one copy needs to be sent. She will make duplicates of each letter and make sure each board member gets individual copies.”