On December 14, 1955, 24-year-old Darrel Parker, a forester in Lincoln, Nebraska, came home for lunch and found his wife, Nancy, 22, had been raped, beaten, and strangled.
The crime shook the city. Parker accompanied his wife’s body to Des Moines, Iowa, for burial and was there on December 20, when he received a call from police asking him to return for questioning. He arrived on the 21st and spent the next 12 hours being interrogated by John Reid—the inventor of the Reid Technique, a method of interrogation that was highly regarded at the time, but came under intense criticism in later years for inducing false confessions.
At the end of his interrogation, Reid said Parker confessed. Parker recanted the confession almost immediately, but to no avail.
Parker went on trial in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas in May, 1956. The evidence against him consisted almost solely of his confession. He was convicted by a jury on June 2, 1956. Parker was sentenced to life in prison.
After his direct appeal was denied, Parker filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In February 1969, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that the confession had been coerced and ordered Parker retried or released. The state appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing on whether the confession was voluntary.
Parker was released on his own recognizance in December 1969. After the Supreme Court ruling, Parker agreed to waive the hearing, the confession was found to be voluntary and his conviction was reinstated.
Days later, the Nebraska Board of Pardons commuted his sentence to 25 to 45 years in prison. Parker was then paroled.
He ultimately moved to Moline, Illinois, where he became superintendent of parks, remarried and moved on with his life.
In 1975, Wesley Peery was convicted of murdering a woman in Havelock, Nebraska and was sentenced to death. While on death row, he told his lawyers about 13 murders he had committed—but refused to allow them to tell anyone about it until after he died.
One of those murders was Nancy Parker. Peery had actually been questioned about the murder before Parker’s husband was questioned, but he had been disregarded as a suspect. Peery had a meticulous memory of the murder and provided a multitude of details that coincided with the evidence in the crime.
After Peery died in 1988, his confession to killing Nancy Parker was revealed.
Based on Peery’s confession, Parker sought a pardon. In 1991, he was granted a full pardon by the Nebraska Board of Pardons.
In 2011, attorneys for Darrel Parker filed a claim for $500,000 under the Nebraska Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act.
In August 2012, the state of Nebraska issued a declaration of innocence to Parker and agreed to pay him $500,000. Attorney General Jon Bruning publicly declared that Parker was wrongly convicted and apologized.
– Maurice Possley