After WBRZ report, killer's parole rescinded
UPDATE: The Governor's Office has confirmed that the case will be reheard and the parole will be rescinded based on a technicality that notification went to the wrong state. Click HERE to read more. Read the original story below:
ST. GABRIEL- A convicted rapist and murderer who detectives and a district attorney believe is the prime suspect in other murders is about to be set free from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.
The Parole Board in Baton Rouge appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards approved the decision in November.
Karen Hill was 21 years old when she was kidnapped, tied to a tree, raped and shot dead in the Kitsatchie National Forest in Vernon Parish.
Samuel Galbraith, a soldier at Fort Polk killed her. He was on the run for almost ten years after her murder in 1988, until he was caught. The brutal nature of the crime brings seasoned detectives to tears, and the fight for justice has one District Attorney urging everyone in the state to call the Governor's Office.
In the middle of the Kitsatchie National Forest, the beautiful branches on an Oak tree offer shade in a picturesque setting. But for Kenneth Williams, a detective of 42 years with the Vernon Parish Sheriff's Office, the shady story of this tree toyed with his emotions. It's the first time he's been back to it in almost 30 years.
"You don't forget it," Williams said. "When I looked at the tree, it was like she was still tied to it."
Never seen before crime scene photos indicate the suffering Karen Hill endured when her life was cut short by a cold-blooded killer. Many of the photos from 1988 are too graphic to show on television or online. They highlight the brutal nature of the crime. Hill was abducted from a convenience store where she used to work, raped, tied to a tree with a shoe lace and shot in the left eye with a "22."
"It hurts," Williams said.
Jesse McWilliams is Hill's mother. She flew to Baton Rouge from Illinois to tell her daughter's story.
"This was two days before Thanksgiving, which for my family is horrible," McWilliams said.
McWilliams remembers getting that phone call that changed her life forever. For almost ten years after her daughter's death went unsolved, McWilliams had no justice as her daughter's killer roamed free. Until Samuel Galbraith bragged to the wrong person who went to authorities. At the time Hill was murdered, District Attorney Asa Skinner was a young prosecutor.
"He told his friend that he had dreamed and had visions of going to a convenience store, getting a woman, kidnapping them, raping them and killing them to see what it felt like," Skinner said.
Before a trial was held, Galbraith plead guilty to raping Hill after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. He also pleaded guilty to her murder. Galbraith was sentenced to 71 years and told he needed to serve 85 percent of it. But after serving just 17 short years in Louisiana, Galbraith will walk out of prison on April 23, 2017.
The sign to Fort Polk sits at the base of Entrance Road. It's where Karen Hill was abducted from. Detectives and District Attorney Asa Skinner believe Galbraith is responsible for other homicides where women went missing in a similar fashion not far from Fort Polk.
"There's just too many coincidences for this to be a coincidence," Williams said.
Detectives and District Attorney Asa Skinner call Galbraith a serial killer. He's about to walk free. That's because the Parole Board appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards recently held a hearing and made a three to zero unanimous decision to release him.
"People trust you," a board member at the parole hearing on November 3, 2016 was recorded saying. "The crime is still there. We can't change this crime. This crime already happened. We can't change it. I have no more questions."
During the hearing, the killer is referred to by his first name. No one but Galbraith's family attended the hearing. It's a hearing that Hill's mother says she wasn't properly notified about it at the Illinois address she's called home for decades.
"My notification went to New York," McWilliams said. "I've lived in Albany, Illinois most of my life, and they have that address."
McWilliams thinks that was done on purpose, so she couldn't make the hearing that was full of Galbraith's family members and other people who spoke out about his character as a prisoner.
"It was just unconscionable that this particular person would get out after serving less than one-third of his sentence for such a heinous murder and rape he committed," Skinner said.
District Attorney Asa Skinner and detectives wrote letters to the parole board requesting a rehearing. Those were denied.
"I don't have an appeals process for what the pardon board does," Skinner said.
With his hands tied, District Attorney Skinner says he has to let the people of Louisiana know a man he believes is a serial killer is about to get released. He wants families to know to stay safe.
"If there's anything the Governor can do, I would plead for him to intervene," Skinner said. "Do whatever he can do to prevent this man from being released."
The family of Karen Hill also is begging for someone to listen to them, after Hill's killer skirted the consequences for almost ten years following her death.
"I would like you to meet my daughter," McWilliams said as she held up Karen Hill's picture. "This is Karen Sue Eads Hill. She would be 50 years old this year. The hearing you had without her mother, and without any of her family was biased. Did you tell his family what he did? How he did it, and how he evaded that? He went and got married, had a life. He took her life. He should not be allowed to have the freedom he took from my daughter."
The Investigative Unit reached out to the Governor's Office about this case, but never heard back.
An interview with the Parole Board members that made the decision was also requested. Those requests were denied. Instead, a written statement was provided by Board Chair Sheryl Ranatza.
"The statutory authority and responsibility of the Committee on Parole is to weigh the information made available to it, taking into consideration many factors--the most important of which is public safety. Victim input is also carefully considered.
We do not determine guilt or innocence in the process of our hearings. Guilt is assumed upon conviction of the offender for cases brought before us.
In our outreach to victims and other criminal justice stakeholders-- inclusive of district attorneys, sheriffs, and police chiefs-- we encourage their active participation. We need it!
In previous administrations, those entities were not very engaged or active in our process. Our charge by this administration is to make the process fair for all."
On Friday, The Investigative Unit will delve deeper into the other missing women that District Attorney Skinner and detectives say Galbraith murdered. Individuals who would like to follow Skinner's advice and contact the Governor, he can be reached at 225-342-7015.
If you want to reach out to him electronically about #SamuelGalbraith, he can be reached on Twitter and Facebook.