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Families fight to keep convicted murderer behind bars

Devastating news from police 30 years ago still haunts the family of Sandra Olrich. Howard Marnell murdered his sister-in-law in her Jamesville home, early on the morning of August 5, 1982.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Devastating news from police 30 years ago still haunts the family of Sandra Olrich. Howard Marnell murdered his sister-in-law in her Jamesville home, early on the morning of August 5, 1982. .

As police tried to identify the killer, Marnell sat with Olrich's grieving family for hours. Cindy Bishop remembers his demeanor as calm and collected.

"He stood right there with all of us with no fear. He thought he did his homework,” said Bishop, Olrich's sister. "He could sit at the dinner table with you, laugh with you and charm you and the next minute you better worry where your daughter is, because you'll be watching them take her out in a body bag.”

Marnell told a parole board he was high on speed and drunk the morning he broke into a tractor trailer with bolt cutters. Instead of committing theft and going home, Marnell drove toward Jamesville with a hunting knife in his pocket. He became enraged after Olrich rejected his sexual advances.

"At that time, I thought it was partly her fault. It was partly my fault. I was trying to talk her out of saying anything. The argument escalated from there," Marnell told a parole board, according to minutes from his March 2013 hearing.

The details are hard for Jessica Ward to discuss. She has tried to block them out. Ward was a toddler when her father was arrested. But, she knows her aunt died violently, stabbed and beaten with a baseball bat.

"The murder he committed was brutal. My aunt's autopsy report showed that she had a fractured skull, lacerated liver, lacerated lung, facial wounds, a lacerated neck. Someone like that, that could do something that brutal, I don't feel could ever really be rehabilitated. I don't feel safe to have him on the streets, said Ward.

Marnell was sentenced to 15 years to Life in prison. He was denied parole eight times, with commissioners often citing him as a potential danger to the public due to the brutality of the crime.

"He took off all his bloody clothes and rolled them up and he hid them in a bag in the back of the closet. He took his car and he parked it in the garage because he knew it had blood on the inside of it because it was such a bloodbath,” explained Bishop.

Marnell's criminal past emerged at parole hearings over the years -- burglary as a teenager, then what the DA calls an attempted abduction in a parking lot, which resulted in community service. Olrich's family thought those cases combined with murder were enough to prevent his release. They found out he'll be granted parole on April 16, 2013, through a letter from New York State.

"I am afraid. Even though he is not released yet, I still find myself today going to the store and double-checking my car, looking in the window before I get in,” Ward said.

In a written decision, the parole board cited Marnell's time served, good behavior, and letters of support from friends, potential employers, even the sentencing judge. The victim's family has sent letters too.

"You have the right to face your accusers. Why is it we don't have the right to face him at these parole board hearings?” Bishop said. "Without that voice they're getting one piece of the story and it is the story of the person fighting to get out."

District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who prosecuted the case, agrees.

"The rules for parole hearings have got to be changed to allow family members and prosecutors the right to appear," Fitzpatrick argued.

In a letter to parole commissioners, Fitzpatrick outlined his opposition to Marnell's release, saying he wasn't honest during his hearing in March.

"I understand that eventually parole has to be an option. It should not be granted, however, as a reward for his deceptions and dodges offered to the Parole Board. I truly hope you can intervene and reverse this travesty."

Senator David Valesky also sent a letter to the New York State Division of Parole.

"I hope you will reconsider your position on this matter so we can prevent any unnecessary harm and heartache that will likely come if this man regains his freedom," Valesky wrote.

Marnell, who gave up parental rights for his two children, told commissioners that he has matured and learned to control his rage. He talked about earning a degree, staying out of trouble in prison, and looking forward to living with the woman he married while serving his sentence. He also said he feels remorse and prays for his victim's family.

"If he really showed remorse, then he would not leave jail. He would stay there and let us live our lives without fear,” Ward said.

After hearing her former brother-in-laws statements, Bishop is reminded of the day her sister died, when Marnell sat quietly beside a devastated family.

"He had just committed this horrible, brutal crime," said Bishop. "To look at us all in the face and act as if he was just another guy, another family member mourning right with us, that kind of deceit is deep and it goes deeper than what can be rehabbed."

Sandra Olrich’s family has created a Facebook page hoping to reverse Marnell’s release, with letters to the governor and the New York State Division of Parole.
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