In August 1959, Edmond Gray punched, kicked and beat his wife with a belt so badly she had to seek medical care.
On April 22, Gray made a brief appearance in this newspaper’s daily historical column, which noted that he had been handed three life sentences for three murders 50 years ago.
Between then and now lies a story – compiled from news accounts and court records – that says a lot about then and now.
Back in 1959, Gray became enraged when he discovered his wife had subscribed to a magazine. Money was tight, and Gray was tightly wound, to put it mildly. Before that, he’d beaten Donna Rae Gray at least 10 times in the 22 months of their marriage, she said.
They were 19 years old. The 49th star had just been added to the flag. Sandy Koufax was striking out everyone in sight. The Barbie doll, the Guggenheim museum, and Fidel Castro all were beginning their reigns.
After the beating, Donna filed for divorce and moved back in with her parents, Alvin and Ethyl Maier, who lived on a farm north of Spokane with Donna’s younger brother and sister. Ed Gray called and went to the house repeatedly, trying to get her to come home. The Maiers got a restraining order, but he came anyway.
Gray pestered Donna at work. He called her divorce attorney and wept. “I can’t promise you I won’t do it again,” he said, according to the lawyer.
Still, when the Maiers asked the attorney whether they should seek to have Gray arrested for violating the court order, he advised them against it. Gray, he said, “hadn’t done anything very drastic yet.” In court testimony later, the attorney said divorce lawyers often hear complaints of violence – “if you can believe everything a wife tells you.”
Her own attorney.
Anyone see this coming? On Oct. 8, 1959, sometime after dinner, Gray drove to the Maier home. He parked a ways away so his car lights would not attract attention. He walked to the home carrying a rifle.
Donna was watching TV in the living room when Gray burst in. “If you don’t go home with me, I’ll kill you,” he said, chasing her into a bathroom, where he shot her. Donna managed to run outside and collapsed on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, Gray shot Donna’s father and mother in the living room.
Donna’s 16-year-old sister, Patricia, had hidden in a closet. Her 12-year-old brother, Anthony, had barricaded his bedroom door and slid under the bed.
Gray went outside and stabbed his dying wife six times in the back, then fled into the nearby hills.
In the house, the Maier children waited until it was quiet, then came out. In the living room, they found their parents dying. Their father couldn’t speak. Their mother talked to her children with a preternatural calm.
“Don’t worry, honey,” she said, according to Patricia’s testimony. “Daddy and I are ready to go. Just make sure you see us in heaven someday.”
Gray ran through fields and forests, hiding out for more than two days. He hitched a ride to Ritzville and was eventually found at a diner, slumped over a counter, asleep. In his statement to police, Gray said, “I always got along good with my wife.”
While awaiting trial, he told a psychologist that if he wore the right sweater, Donna appeared to him in his cell. He said he believed numbers were magic and his wife’s wedding rings were evil. He told the psychologist he had “unusual feelings” toward his right arm, which performed acts of violence without his control or knowledge.
That psychologist testified at the trial that Gray was incapable of determining right from wrong. Three others disagreed, as did the jury, which found Gray guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, following a sensational trial played out before packed courtrooms.
The judge expressed concern that Gray might be released too quickly by the parole board, so he gave him three life sentences. “I’m completely satisfied with it,” Gray said.
But there’s a funny thing about the word “life” – or at least there used to be. In 1960, three life sentences might have added up to 60 years at the longest. The parole board released Gray in 1981, just 21 years after his sentencing. Seven years per life.
It was the same year that Washington passed new, stricter guidelines for prison sentences. These days, a life sentence is truly a life sentence – till death do us part.
Gray’s criminal history didn’t end there. Eleven years after his release, he was convicted of sexually abusing a young girl in Ferry County. Had Gray served the time the judge intended, he would have still been locked up. Instead, he returned to prison and was released on parole once again in 1997. Last year, he was freed from supervision by the Department of Corrections.
He’s 70 now, apparently living on the West Side. And still quite a ways shy of fulfilling that first life sentence.