Santa Rosa, CA – September 17, 2021 – District Attorney Jill Ravitch has announced that Johnny Lee Sommerhalder, 78years old of Santa Rosa, has been denied parole by the California Board of Parole Hearings. The denial was for a period of three years. This was the first parole hearing since Governor Newsom intervened and reversed a 2019 improvident grant of parole. The victims’ family members and representatives from the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and the Marin County District Attorney’s Office were in attendance. This was the 15th parole consideration hearing for Mr. Sommerhalder.
In 1965, Sommerhalder went to prison for an assault with a deadly weapon involving a brutal attack on a 17 year old victim. In 1966, Sommerhalder was released from prison and placed on parole. On October 7, 1967, while still on parole, Sommerhalder was out driving in Santa Rosa at about 4:00am. Sommerhalder was with three of his associates when he came upon Charles Kaufmann and Mr. Kaufmann’s girlfriend parked in a vehicle in the hills behind Santa Rosa. Sommerhalder approached Mr. Kaufmann on the driver’s side of the vehicle while an associate approached the girlfriend on the passenger’s side. Sommerhalder pointed a handgun at the couple and ordered them to cover their heads with their sweaters and step out of the vehicle.
Mr. Kaufmann was a champion wrestler at Santa Rosa Junior College. Once out of the car, Mr. Kaufmann flipped Sommerhalder to the ground. The associate ran to assist and began striking Mr. Kaufmann. Mr. Kaufmann flipped the associate to the ground, but ultimately, Sommerhalder shot Mr. Kaufmann twice in the back shoulder and once in the head at close range. With Mr. Kaufmann dead, the girlfriend was kidnapped and driven to a remote location near Calistoga Road where she was repeatedly raped and left naked and bound by her own clothing.
Just three months later, on January, 12, 1968, Sommerhalder and one associate went to the Ackley residence in Marin County. Sommerhalder and his associate were burglarizing the residence when the couple returned home. Mr. Ackley was bound and his eyes taped shut. He was moved to the rear of the residence and shot four times behind the ear. Mrs. Ackley was shot, stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted. When the police arrived, the knife was still in Mrs. Ackley’s back.
Sommerhalder was arrested a couple days later, after a shoot-out with law enforcement.
In 1968, Sommerhalder was convicted by jury trial in Marin County of the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Ackley, and the jury sentenced him to death. Sommerhalder was then transferred to Sonoma County where he pled guilty to the first degree murder of Mr. Kaufmann for a concurrent life sentence. In 1972, when the Supreme Court of the State of California abolished the death penalty, Sommerhalder’s sentence was reduced to life with the possibility of parole.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Waner appeared in opposition to Sommerhalder’s release on behalf of the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.