Every few years, Kelli Lowe Tyrone is forced to relive a nightmare that is now 29 years old.
Tyrone was a victim in a shooting spree across Elmore and Montgomery counties just 11 days before Christmas 1991. Benjamin Oryang, Tyrone Gibson and McArthur Harris’ idea of fun that night firing rifles at vehicles left more than Tyrone in their wake. National Guard Staff Sgt. Julia S. Lindsey died as she slumped against her friend Cathy Wall. The trio’s first shots that night found their way into a truck just inches away from the driver. The trio was found guilty or pleaded guilty to the crimes in the following two years.
The three defendants had parole hearings Wednesday and Thursday. Three times previously, Tyrone, an Elmore County resident, has been able to testify at parole hearings to keep Oryang, Gibson and Harris behind bars, but not this time as the nightmare continues.
“What makes it bad this time is not being able to go to the hearing and plead our case,” Tyrone said. “We can’t go because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We just had to do letters. But it’s like letters and texts — you can’t really convey emotions.”
Tyrone said the past three times she testified she feels she was able to connect to the parole board.
“They can see and feel the emotion,” Tyrone said. “They can see your heart.”
Tyrone said the nightmare this time is especially hard because she is having to relive it in greater detail.
“I felt like I had to explain exactly what happened,” Tyrone said. “I had to relive everything again to make sure whoever reads it understands. I don’t want them to get out of prison; I don’t think they deserve to get out of prison.”
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will not just hear from Tyrone as the community can write the board too.
“Elmore County has been amazing to me,” Tyrone said. “(Sheriff Bill Franklin) has been great. A lot of public officials wrote on my behalf.”
Because Alabama law at the time said the trio couldn’t be tried for capital murder, life in prison without parole and the death penalty were not available sentences.
Oryang was given three life sentences, two of which are to be served consecutively, plus a 50-year consecutive sentence. Harris and Gibson were both given two life sentences plus a 50-year sentence and a 40-year sentence. It’s not likely the trio will ever get out of prison the way the sentences are stacked but it is the reason it’s still a nightmare for Tyrone as she continues to testify to make sure they stay in prison. It is part of the reason Tyrone is still living the nightmare.
“It’s my own guilt,” Tyrone said. “Since I did not die that night, they could not be tried for capital murder at the time.”
The weeks leading up to Wednesday have been hard as Tyrone prepared for the hearings.
“This week has been bad,” Tyrone said. “I’m the type of person who pretends like it didn’t happen normally.”
Over the years Tyrone has learned how to cope with the neverending nightmare.
“I lean on a tribe of family and friends,” Tyrone said. “The community and work are great too. You have to have that tribe to be able to deal with it. They have all been great.”
The parole board denied the fourth attempt at parole for the trio.
Court documents from Oryang’s appeal to his conviction reveal details about the night of terror. The documents use testimony provided by victims and co-defendants Harris and Gibson.
“Gibson testified that Harris, Oryang and he met at Oryang’s house to drink beer and whiskey,” Oryang’s criminal appeal documents state. “They then got into Gibson’s car to go ‘joy riding’ and Oryang brought his gun with him.”
The trio went to Harris’ and Gibson’s houses to retrieve guns before the night went awry.
“During the ride they saw a truck approaching them from behind at a fast rate of speed,” the documents state. “Gibson testified this angered (Oryang). Gibson slowed down to let the truck pass and as it did, (Oryang) and Harris began shooting at the truck.”
It was Barry Kelly approaching Gibson’s car. Kelly said Gibson was traveling approximately 40 mph, slowing and moving off the road.
“(Kelly) testified he passed the vehicle then he heard a blast, as if a firecracker had been thrown into his truck,” court documents state. “(Kelly) testified that when he realized he was hearing gunshots, the shots began to come from both sides.”
Damage was done to the passenger side, the back, the tire carrier, the tire in the carrier and the rear bumper of Kelly’s truck. Kelly was physically uninjured.
The trio continued drinking when Tyrone’s vehicle approached.
“(Gibson) became angry because he wanted to go home and didn’t know where he was,” documents state. “Gibson testified that, while the car was still ‘a good distance back from us,’ he laid his gun on the top of his window. He testified that he began trying to time his actions so that, when the car passed him, he would shoot at the vehicle.”
Gibson and someone else begin firing at the driver’s side of Tyrone’s vehicle. They began to slow but Oryang said the police were there so Gibson “became frightened and sped off.”
Lowe was a 20-year-old employee of the Alabama Department of Public Health. Tyrone testified she had driven to Montgomery to do some Christmas shopping and was returning to Elmore County.
“As (Tyrone) was driving, she noticed a car in front of her slowing,” Oryang’s appeal documents state. “(Tyrone) thought that they had possibly missed a turn. When (Tyrone) passed the vehicle, she heard a loud noise but she kept driving believing that a tire had gone flat.”
It was in those moments Tyrone realized something wasn’t right.
“(Tyrone) stated that she then felt her stomach blow up,” documents state. “(Tyrone) then reached her hand in her stomach and her hand just stuck in. (Tyrone) pulled off of the road to determine what had happened and she turned on her emergency lights.”
Lowe lived thanks to others finding her and surgeries.
Now the nightmare continued, but Lindsey and Wall just weren’t aware they were part of it.
Lindsey and Wall were in the Alabama Army National Guard. Lindsey had picked up Christmas ornaments in Montgomery. Lindsey invited Wall to go with her to deliver the ornaments to Lindsey’s mother in Eclectic.
Gibson, Harris and Oryang were now on U.S. Highway 231 South traveling to Lindsey and Wall who were in a Pontiac Grand Prix traveling back to Montgomery. Gibson said they pulled along side of Lindsey and Wall. The trio believed a male was driving and a female was in the passenger seat.
“(Oryang) asked the other if he should shoot this ‘B,’” court documents state. “Gibson responded, ‘Do what you want to do.’”
As Gibson, Harris and Oryang passed the Grand Prix, Oryang yelled an obscenity, lifted his gun and fired at the car.
A split second before, Wall did something unintentional that may have saved her life.
“(Wall) bent over to get a tube of lipstick from her purse and, when she did so, she heard glass shattering,” the documents state. “(Wall) testified that she felt a bump and believing that they had been in a wreck she sat up. (Wall) stated that Lindsey then slumped against her and hit her side. The car began swerving off the road and, when Lindsey did not respond to Wall’s screams, she pushed Lindsey over and stopped the car. The evidence indicated that Cathy Wall’s window had also been blown out by a gunshot.”
Harris gave a similar account of the night’s actions from the car carrying the trio.
“Harris testified that on the night in question, Gibson, (Oryang) and he all got their guns because they planned to go deer hunting in Wetumpka,” court documents state. “(Gibson said) that they had been drinking and continued doing so as they drove.”
Harris said all three had shot at Kelly’s truck.
“Then Gibson stopped the car, (Oryang) and Gibson got out of the vehicle and continued shooting at the truck,” documents state.
From there Gibson drove the trio to a home in Redland. On the way back to Montgomery, Lowe’s car approached the trio.
“(Oryang) asked Gibson what he was going to do, Gibson said, ‘This is what I am going to do,’ and shot at (Tyrone’s) vehicle,” Harris testified.
Harris’ testimony revealed he believed no shots hit Lowe’s vehicle but he saw brake lights come on. Oryang said he saw a police vehicle so they headed home and came up on the Grand Prix.
“(Oryang) rolled his window down, I had a feeling what he was going to do,” Harris testified. “So I rolled down mine. (Oryang) told Gibson to ‘Go, go where the car was,’ meaning ‘go catch up with the car.’”
Harris said he saw someone ducking. Harris said (Oryang) shot his gun, shattering the window of Lindsey’s vehicle. Harris also fired his gun at the back of the vehicle. The Grand Prix swerved hitting the vehicle driven by Gibson.
“Gibson wanted to stop, but (Oryang) began laughing, stating, ‘He know somebody (was) shot in the head,’” court documents state.
In 1992, Alabama law didn’t allow Gibson, Harris or Oryang to be tried for capital murder. The shooting spree caused the Alabama Legislature to amend the law on capital murder to allow charges of capital murder to be made when someone fires into another vehicle or dwelling killing someone. If they had been convicted of capital murder, Gibson, Harris and Oryang would have been sentenced to life in prison or given the death penalty.
Without the capital murder conviction, the family of Lindsey, Wall, Tyrone and Kelly will continue to fight every few years to keep the trio in prison.