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A Wilson man serving life in prison after pleading guilty to strangling two elderly women in 1985 is being considered for parole.
Donald Ray Howard has served 32 years of a life sentence plus 50 years on two counts of second-degree murder. He was convicted in September 1987.
Howard, now 55, was 23 when he admitted in court to killing 71-year-old Margaret Donoghue and 84-year-old Gladys Tasman.
Howard lived on Cemetery Street in the mid-1980s.
Residents of the neighborhood where the women were killed said at the time they were relieved but not satisfied with Howard’s sentencing.
Attempts to locate either victim’s family were unsuccessful.
According to archived news reports, Howard performed yard work for Tasman, who lived on West Kenan Street. After she paid him $25, he began to walk home but realized he had dropped his money. He returned to Tasman’s home and asked for more money. When she denied him, Howard strangled her.
In Donoghue’s death, Howard had been released from jail after two months for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The same day of his release, Howard broke into a house on Mount Vernon Drive. He thought no one was home, but Donoghue was asleep in a back bedroom.
“She woke up and began screaming,” Howard said in his confession to police. “I didn’t want to hurt her; I just wanted her to be quiet. I went over, grabbed her by the neck, tied her arms with a scarf. She said, ‘Let me go.’ I tied her mouth with a piece of nylon.”
Howard left Donoghue lying face-down on her bed and took a television set and $298 cash. He stole Donoghue’s car and drove to Rocky Mount where he boarded a bus bound for New York City, according to court documents.
Howard was arrested on rape charges in New York and extradited to Wilson in 1986.
While incarcerated since 1987, Howard received 19 infractions, ranging from disobeying orders to possessing a weapon. His last recorded infraction was in 2012 for possession of an electronic device, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
The N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission is considering Howard for parole due to his involvement in the Mutual Agreement Parole Program, a scholastic and vocational program that is a three-way agreement between the inmates, the Parole Commission and the N.C. Division of Prisons.
The state’s current structured sentencing law eliminates parole for crimes committed after Oct. 1, 1994. However, the parole commission has the responsibility of paroling offenders who were sentenced under previous guidelines.
Howard is currently housed at the Dan River Prison Work Farm in Caswell County, near Yanceyville.
Anyone with comments for or against Howard’s parole can call the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission at 919- 716–3010.