Public opposes parole for Wichita 'Holiday Inn sniper'

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Forty-one years ago, Michael Soles went into the downtown Wichita Holiday Inn with two rifles. He walked onto a balcony and started shooting. Today the family of his victims, along with law enforcement, and lawyers who help put Soles away pleaded with the Kansas Prisoner Review Board to keep him behind bars. 

Carl Hensley lost his father Elmer. He will never forget how he learned his dad was dead. 

"I looked down the corridor and there is a gurney with a body bag on it," recalled Hensley. "I still hear the people shouting you can't go there, you can't open that, which I did and told them this is my father."

This is Soles' fifth time up for parole. He received a life sentence. But under Kansas law at the time, he has been eligible for parole since 1991.

Keith Sanborn, a retired judge who prosecuted Soles, said, "It is inconceivable to me that anyone would want to release him."

He shared a chilling reason why he opposes Soles' release.

"When a person murders people for publicity, that's his motive:  publicity," said Sanborn.

Michael McKenna, a retired Wichita police officer, shared his experience exchanging gunfire with Soles.

"I would shoot in an attempt to keep him from firing at other people," said McKenna.

Hensley left the parole board with how his father died at the hand of Michael Soles. 

"He was shot, had bled, was bleeding to death. (He) crawled some 20 feet before he collapsed, calling for help."

After hearing what the public had to say, the three-member board will hold formal parole hearings for Soles and then make a decision. 

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The sniper who killed killed three people and injured several others is scheduled for a parole hearing next month, more than 40 years after his shooting rampage. 

Ahead of Michael Soles fifth time up for parole, the Kansas Prisoner Review Board will hold a public comment session today at the Derby municipal court building at 229 North Baltimore. The board will take comments from 10 a.m. until noon.

At 3 p.m. on August 11, 1976, 19-year-old Michael Soles set up on the southeast 26th floor balcony of the former downtown Holiday Inn. From there he had a clear view of pedestrians and drivers on Douglas and Kennedy Plaza.  

Soles killed three and wounded at least eight others.

Retired Sedgwick County Sheriff Mike Hill was then one of the Wichita police officers who put themselves in harm's way to stop Soles' attack.

"He actually carried his weapons into the lobby," Hill said. "Back then people weren't really as concerned about people with weapons as they are today."  

Retired Wichita officer John Coonrod said the department didn't have any long rifles that would reach the 26th floor where soles was. Officers they had to go in there, putting their lives on the line to make the arrest.

Bobby Stout was a deputy chief at the time and remembers the high anxiety.

"We were able to take him without killing him and without getting themselves killed, and that was a relief to all of us," Stout said.   

Soles was taken into custody after being shot by Wichita police. He was convicted a few months later on 12 charges, including first-degree murder, and sentenced to three life terms. 

Michael Soles is now 59 and in the El Dorado Correctional Facility for three counts of murder.  

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