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2013-09-26

Sorensen - from Big House to your house? Assist with keeping murderer incarcerated

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Staff Writer

In 1984, Bandera County resident Gerald Rodger Sorensen was sentenced to life in prison for rape and murder. He had been in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system since 1963 after being convicted of aggravated assault using a blackjack and knife. Additionally, after being convicted of rape in California in 1965 Sorenson was paroled to San Antonio.
While in Texas, he was subsequently convicted of rape and sodomy in 1973 prior to escalating to murder while committing a rape, as well as aggravated sexual assault with a gun in 1984.
Because Sorensen used a deadly weapon during the crime, he was required to serve 20 years "flat time" before becoming eligible for parole, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in an earlier interview. The option of imposing a "life without possibility of parole" had not yet been enacted in Texas.
Since those 20 years, Sorensen's name has been periodically included on a parole review list - the latest being Sept. 3, 2013. Concerned residents of Wharton's Dock, as well as friends and relatives of the late Marie Denise Walker, have requested the public's help to ensure Sorensen remain incarcerated. The victim was the sister of attorney Billy Walker.
Back story
In 1984, Bandera County was a sparsely populated, extremely rural area that included large still-intact ranches. In addition, Denise Walker, a native of Bandera County, had returned to the area to teach elementary school. By all accounts, she was a popular and active member of the close-knit community.
On Jan. 31, 1984, after forcing his way into her home, Sorensen raped and killed 36 year old.
This crime occurred just months after he had been granted parole after serving time for committing that violent crime in 1973. His crime was particularly heinous as medical records introduced at Sorensen's trial indicated she had been raped repeatedly, both pre- and postmortem.
In addition, while investigating Walker's murder, law enforcement officers discovered evidence indicating that Sorensen had also stalked Walker prior to attacking and killing her. A well-worn path led from a residence in Wharton's Dock where Sorensen was residing with relatives approximately a mile from Walker's home on her parents' ranch.
Additionally, local law enforcement suspected Sorensen of committing two other rapes in 1983, which occurred within a mile of his house, but in an opposite direction. The rapes were apparently never solved.
Prosecution gaffe?
According to an article written by Stephanie Logue and published in the Courier on Nov. 5, 2003, Sorensen was arrested in New York several weeks after Walker's murder and extradited to Texas for the trial.
In two separate trials in 1984, Sorensen was convicted of aggravated sexual assault with a rifle and murder of a stranger in the course of a rape. Logue wrote that had the two 1984 charges been handled as one capital murder case by then-district attorney Joe Mike Egan, Sorensen could have received the death penalty.
Instead, according to newspaper archives, he was sentenced to 99 years for Walker's rape. A planned capital murder trial - which was scheduled to follow the first conviction - failed when Judge Robert Barton ruled that a second trial would entail double jeopardy.
"Capital murder means that a felony was committed in the commission of the murder and Sorensen had already been convicted of that felony, a rape," Logue wrote.
However, according to newspaper accounts at the time, Egan's mistake resulted in Sorensen's becoming eligible for parole for the first time in 2004. Egan was quoted as saying he had "mistakenly believed that the first conviction would not put Sorensen in jeopardy twice for the same crime."
As Bandera County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Matt King explained, "They should have tried him for capital murder first. If that had failed, they could have come back and prosecuted him on the rape charges." Instead, Sorensen now comes up for parole regularly.
Procedure to protest
When inmates are scheduled for parole review, the TDCJ sends letters to affected parties. In part, the latest letter reads, "We acknowledge how difficult it may be for you to write about the effects of this crime, but you are welcome to submit any letter, newspaper clippings or photographs that would help the Board of Pardons and Paroles understand how the offense had affected you."
Consequently, to prevent a continuation of Sorensen's violent crimes, Bandera County citizens are asked to send a letter or email as soon as possible to the TDCJ requesting that Gerald Rodger Sorensen not be granted parole. His state identification number is 0120766, and his TDCJ identification number is 00388789. Sorensen's ID numbers must be referenced in the correspondence.
Correspondence should be sent to Angela McCown, director of Victim Services Division, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 8712 Shoal Creek Blvd., Suite 265, Austin 78711-6899. Telephone is 512-406-5900 and 800-848-4284 and faxes are 512-452-0825 and 512-452-1025. Testimonials can also be emailed to victim.svc@tdcj.state.tx.us.
Family members will be allowed to make verbal victim impact statements during parole hearings, according to a staff member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Parole hearings are closed to the public, however.
Not done deal
Parole board members, who are appointed by the governor, weigh any public input received prior to approving prisoners for parole. The review process usually takes from four to six months.
TDCJ 2010 statistics indicated the parole panel considered 77,540 cases and approved parole for 24,124 prisoners - an approval rate of 31.11 percent. The board also considered 4,538 cases of prisoners convicted for violent aggravated sexual assault and approved 1,800 or 39.67 percent for parole. However, no statistics were available on the number of murderers granted parole.
If Sorensen is denied parole, he must wait from one to five years before his case comes up for review again. "Of course, just because his case is being reviewed by the parole board, it doesn't mean he will be released," commented the TDCJ spokesman.
To ensure Sorensen's continued incarceration, concerned residents are asked to mail, email, fax or telephone their concerns to the TDCJ using the above information as soon as possible.

To facilitate the procedure, a petition against Sorensen's release has been included in this edition of the Bandera County Courier.