It is an irony that isn’t lost on Doris Morgan.
Her son Michael Gene McDonald — a 1973 East Union High graduate — was brutally killed along with a woman acquaintance by William Walter Nichols who laid in wait for more than an hour on Sept. 13, 1983.
On the exact 33rd anniversary of her son’s cold-blooded murder — Sept. 13, 2016 — the Manteca mother is being forced for the sixth time to try and keep her son’s killer behind bars at a parole hearing. It is a little over a year after his last parole hearing when Morgan was told Nichols would have to wait another three years before getting the chance to make another pitch for freedom.
But now Morgan figures since the pressure is mounting to make space in California’s prisons, there is a push to parole murderers who have been “well-behaved” behind bars. She has a real fear that the man convicted of a double premediated homicide with special circumstances could soon be walking free among California’s 39 million residents.
“I believe he is quite capable of killing again,” Morgan said.
The three arguments
she expects Nichols
will pitch for his freedom
Here are the arguments that Morgan expects she’ll have to counter.
uPrisons are too crowded.
To Morgan, the response is clear. Nichols is in a fairly comfy dorm — and not a cell — at Solano State Prison. Her son is in a cramped casket six feet under.
Morgan believes there are plenty of criminals to release who will not be a threat to society.
As a “hardcore double murderer” Morgan contends “this man will always be a threat to society.”
Ironically his transfer to the Solano dorm in Vacaville from an Ironwood State Prison cell in Blythe led to Nichols being placed in an anger management class. At his last parole hearing in March 2015, Nichols said after he was transferred he was having a problem dealing with his new environment, new circumstances, and certain people.
“He is admitting he is already having trouble being around people,” Morgan said about his transfer to the dorm. “Is this someone you want to let out into society? This deranged man will always need a controlled environment.”
uNichols is now 71 years old.
To that Morgan says: “So what?”
“What does age have to do with it?” Morgan asks. “It is what is in a man’s heart.”
Her son would have been 60 today and Susan Mendrin — the woman Nichols killed as well — would be 58 years old. Morgan noted Nichols premediated taking their lives. Nichols, as she points out, showed no mercy in ending the lives of two 20-somethings.
uNichols has been a “good boy in prison.”
Morgan said her son by all definitions was a good boy.
“My son was one of the nicest people I have ever known,” she said. “He never had an enemy.”
Nichols, she noted, never cut her son any slack for being a “good boy.” She believes the state shouldn’t cut her son’s murderer slack because he’s been a “good boy” behind bars.
“Nichols has gotten all the breaks,” Morgan said Tuesday at her rural Manteca home where her son grew up.
Nichols was allowed to get married behind bars where he also fathered a child during a conjugal visit. Her son never got the chance to get married nor have children thanks to Nichols.
As to what is in Nichols’ heart and to whether being a “good boy” in prison is false veneer, Morgan relays the words Nichols told police officers when they informed him her son was dead: “At least I did something right.”
Morgan is hoping the community will help her do “something right” by taking the time to pen letters or dash off an email to the parole board prior to Sept. 1 given such input is weighed in the process of whether to keep murderer behind bars or to recommend them for release.
McDonald was a
typical Manteca kid
McDonald was a happy go lucky kid.
He did what kids growing up in rural Manteca did 40 plus years ago.
He rode his bicycle to New Haven School. Mike, along with his stepbrother Rusty, would give their mother fits by hooking up a makeshift carriage to their Shetland pony and taking off down what was then a much quieter Cottage Avenue.
He sang in the First Baptist Church choir, the same church he was baptized in.
In high school, he was a member of the East Union FFA and proudly showed both his beef and swine projects at competitions. Mike was a four-year honor student at East Union High where he graduated in 1973. He also ran track for the Lancers.
Although he wasn’t much into sports in high school, after leaving Manteca the Cerritos College graduate got into everything from snow skiing and water skiing to surfing.
At age 27, he was living in Downey where he was buying a Spanish-style house while working with his father in a successful burglary alarm business. The entire world was ahead of him as the strapping, happy-go-lucky, 6-foot-3, 195-pounder started seriously thinking about getting married and starting a family.
That, however, would not happen.
Mike, 27, was murdered in cold blood at the front door of his home by Nichols who also killed Mendrin, 25, whom Mike had just met six weeks prior.
Nichols was Mendrin’s ex-boyfriend. She had gone to Mike’s house for their third date. Nichols waited around the corner until she reached Mike’s front door. He then ran his pickup across the lawn. Startled, Susan screamed and Mike started out of the house to protect Susan. Before he got through the screen door, though, Nichols shot Mike three times using a .357 Magnum with one bullet ripping through his heart. Nichols turned the gun on Susan and shot her twice in the head.
Before police caught Nichols, he headed to a 7-Eleven and bought a bottle of tequila and headed to Malibu where — a Good Samaritan who noticed he was highly intoxicated – tried to take his keys. Nichols fired two shots at the man just missing his head. He then aimed his car intentionally the man and his 4-year-old daughter almost striking them and other pedestrians outside of a convenience store.
He struck several parked cars and tried to use his vehicle to kill two responding police officers in their patrol car. Another police vehicle was able to ram Nichols’ vehicle and stop his rampage.
Nichols did not know Mike. It was clear that whoever came through that door on Sept. 13, 1983 that Nichols was going to kill them.
Morgan, now 89, had to do what no mother should have to do – bury her own child.
Making it worse, however, is the knowledge that her son’s killers could go free unless she can prove to the parole board that he should not be released.
This will be Nichols’ sixth parole hearing. He was eligible after 14 years on his sentence of two concurrent 25 years to life sentences for each murder victim. In the past the board told the Morgans that letters and petitions from the community helped sway the board as Nichols had been what they called “a model prisoner.”
She is again starting a collection of signatures on petitions and is hoping to get others to send letters as well to the parole board before she makes the trip with her husband as well as Janet and Mark Keson to Vacaville to fight Nichols’ potential parole.
The Kesons have accompanied the Morgans during previous parole hearings.
The Keson’s daughter Darlene Paris, 23, was one of the four victims of the 1992 Salida Massacre where four people in a duplex were beaten, stabbed and then had their throats slashed so severely that it almost detached their heads by five members of a satanic cult.