Woman charged in New York firefighter slayings
As police announced the charges against Nguyen, a clearer portrait of Spengler began to emerge, in the words of wary parole commissioners who kept him locked up until the law said they had to let him go.
At his final parole hearing in 1995, the then-45-year-old Spengler repeated his desire to get out of prison while he still had time to rebuild his life. He also took issue with a previous decision not to release him because the board believed he remained a danger to society.
"You know, the only area of confusion, the last Board, they said that I might be a danger to the community at that time," he said. "I can't figure out where in my record it shows that."
"Well, 13 shots to the head. The grandmother. You killed a 92-year-old woman. We are worried about that," a board member replied. "There might be another occasion where you lose your temper and you might repeat that behavior. That is what frightens us. That frightens us."
During four hearings between 1989 and 1995, Spengler quarreled with parole board members over details of his grandmother's killing, insisting each time he'd only hit her three times on the head with a hammer while evidence pointed to 13 blows, and initially saying he couldn't explain why the attack happened.
He told the commissioners he took care of his father's mother in her home next to his because others in the family had difficulty dealing with her, in part because she could be violent. He denied insinuations he was taking financial advantage of Rose Spengler.
The transcripts reveal a well-spoken man, proud to be staying out of trouble in prison and earning positions of trust and responsibility, even time out of prison with a work crew that did renovation work in places including a century-old chapel. The board members mention Spengler testing high for intelligence and noted he came to prison with no other crimes on his record, had only dabbled in drug use and had a spotty work history, mostly as a house painter.
On the day of the killing, he said, he planned to nail shut a basement door to prevent his grandmother from going down and endangering herself. But he said she attacked him, inadvertently kneed him in the groin, and he hit her with the hammer.
"So why do you think you killed her?" Spengler was asked in 1989.
"I still haven't figured that out. It was matter of just wanting to get out. She was between me and the door," he replied.
"She was just a little, bitty old lady," a board member commented.
"I realize that. That's why I still can't explain it," Spengler said.