Convicted murderer Sam Strange granted parole suitability |

Convicted murderer Sam Strange granted parole suitability

Sam Strange in Nevada County Superior Court for his homicide trial in 1996.
John Hart/ |

Convicted murderer Sam Strange was granted parole suitability by Board of Parole Hearings commissioners at Valley State Prison Thursday, his third attempt since his 1996 conviction for the brutal deaths of Crissy Campbell and Dawn Donaldson.

The news was met with sharply divided reactions from the families of the two girls, who were last seen alive at Strange’s Retrac Way home on July 23, 1994. Their bodies were discovered more than a week later on South Ponderosa Way.

Strange was convicted after a jury trial on one first-degree murder count and on one second-degree murder count, and was sentenced to two 15-years-to-life prison terms to be served consecutively.

The decision to deem Strange suitable for parole does not automatically mean he will be paroled, cautioned Luis Patino, the spokesman for the prison system’s Division of Adult Parole Operations and Board of Parole Hearings.

The matter is now under review for 150 days, he said.

“The staff reviews all the facts and matters of law,” Patino said, adding that they have 120 days.

It then goes to the governor’s office, who has 30 days to take one of five actions — to uphold the grant of parole, to reverse it, to modify it, to send it to the full parole board for review and ruling, or to take no action.

Patino said if parole is approved, it can take up to five days to process and finalize before Strange could be released. He said the parole process might not take the full five months, but it typically will.


One family unhappy with decision

Since his arrest, and up to his most recent parole hearing, Strange has consistently pointed the finger at two other men — Allen Pettus and Dameon Graham. Strange maintains that he witnessed the murders and only disposed of the girls’ bodies, keeping quiet out of fear of retaliation.

To this day, the double homicide resonates in Nevada County, with some believing Strange’s account. Donaldson’s family strongly believe he was the only one responsible, while Campbell’s family said they have come to believe his claims.

Amber Raymond, Donaldson’s sister, expressed anger and pain upon hearing the man she believes killed her sister could walk free.

“I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m broken,” she said. “My heart is pounding.”

Raymond said she and her family had to sit in the courtroom and listen to Strange talk about putting her sister in a makeshift tool box and stomping on her body to make her fit inside.

“Then (he) just dumped them in the middle of nowhere, like garbage,” she said.

Strange went to work the next day like nothing happened, Raymond said, then came to the Donaldson house.

“He shook my mother’s hand, with that guilt dripping out of his fingers, and apologized,” she said. “Little did we know what he was apologizing for. This man killed my sister and her best friend. I am so disappointed … I can’t even begin to dig for everything I could actually want to say right now.”


Another argued for parole

Crissy Campbell’s sisters, Shani and Wendy, both attended the hearing Thursday and advocated for Strange’s release.

“It’s been a long journey,” Wendy Campbell said, adding she was relieved she will not have to go to another parole hearing and relive the details of Crissy’s murder.

Wendy said that she always has believed that Strange did not commit the murders by himself, that Pettus and Graham were involved.

“I believe he needed to serve some hard time for his role,” she said. “He didn’t call the cops, he watched my sister be murdered and did nothing.”

But Wendy said she believes Strange made good use of his time in prison, noting he has graduated from a course to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

If paroled, Strange will be released to a halfway house, Wendy said, adding that he already has a job lined up as a counselor.

Shani Campbell read a long letter at the hearing, detailing how she has forgiven Strange for his part in Crissy’s murder, in part through striking up a correspondence with him.

“It took me 15 years to get to this point,” she said after the hearing. “I hated Sam. I wrote his family horrible letters; I wished death on (him). I was so angry for so many years … It’s been a long, long transformation for me personally.”

According to Shani, she has gotten to know Strange as a person through the letters, “to see him no longer as a monster but as a human being.”

And, like the other members of the Campbell family, she honestly believes Strange has been rehabilitated.

At the last parole hearing in 2015, she said, the board believed Strange had not accepted responsibility for his involvement in the murders.

“This time, he flat-out said that he was a part of my sister’s murder,” Shani said. “Because he watched and did not protect her, that he was an accomplice to the murder. He really took responsibility, where he didn’t fully do that before.”

Wendy and Shani Campbell acknowledged it might seem odd for a victim’s family to advocate for Strange’s release.

“People are going to be very confused,” Shani said. “It’s hard for people to understand where I’m coming from, that I forgive him, that he deserves a second chance. I hope people have an open mind and see … why we would speak on his behalf.

“I’m excited for him,” she continued. “I think he’s ready to embark on his life. I think it will be scary for him; he has a lot of obstacles ahead, and I hope he succeeds.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User