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Leader of the infamous Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club convicted of murder denied parole

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A man convicted of three North Bay murders in the late 1960s and early ‘70s has been denied parole by the California Board of Parole Hearings for the 15th time, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

Johnny Lee Sommerhalder, 78, of Santa Rosa, is serving two concurrent life sentences for two murders in 1968 and one in 1972. He led a deadly criminal rampage as the leader of the infamous Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club.

This was Sommerhalder’s first parole hearing since Gov. Gavin Newsom intervened and reversed a 2019 improvident grant of parole, which means that parole was granted without adequate consideration by the court or complete information about the case.

At the hearing Thursday, parole was denied for three years, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a written statement.

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In October 1967, Sommerhalder, who was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon, and three associates confronted a couple parked in the hills outside of Santa Rosa. Following a scuffle, he shot Charles Kaufmann twice in the back and once in the head at close range, killing him. Kaufmann’s girlfriend was kidnapped and repeatedly raped before being left naked and bound by her clothing near Calistoga Road.

Three months later, in January 1968, Sommerhalder and an associate were burglarizing a home in San Rafael when the owners, Curtis and Shirley Ackley, returned. Curtis Ackley was bound and his eyes taped shut, then fatally shot four times behind the ear. His wife was shot, stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted before she was killed.

Although a jury sentenced Sommerhalder to death later that year, the Supreme Court of California abolished the death penalty. His sentence was reduced to life with the possibility of parole.

The victims’ family members and representatives of the district attorneys of Sonoma and Marin counties were at the hearing to oppose Sommerhalder’s release.

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