Wichita Fifteen years after former Emporia minister Thomas Bird was convicted of murdering his wife, their family and friends are embroiled in a divisive fight about whether he should be released from prison.
The latest chapter was played out Thursday before the Kansas Parole Board in Wichita in a case that drew national attention, including the 1987 miniseries "Murder Ordained."
Family members of Sandra Bird held each other as they stood before the parole board and quietly, often tearfully, related how much they missed her wisdom and her vitality. They recounted her brutal death, and her husband's adulterous affair that led to her murder. They pleaded that Bird not be released.
Sandra Bird's mother, Jane Stringer Grismer, leaned over the hearing table to show board members photos of her daughter with family members.
"Thomas Bird is an educated Lutheran minister. He was in a position of trust. He was and he is a master manipulator deceitful, disloyal. He was unfaithful," she said. "He betrayed not only his wife, but his children, his family and friends and his congregation."
Supporters of Thomas Bird portrayed him as an innocent man wrongly imprisoned. They cited his good works in prison ministering to other prisoners. His brother, Mark Bird, vigorously shook each board member's hand before and after his remarks.
"He has maintained his innocence because he didn't do it," he said.
Caught in the middle are the couple's now grown children who were ages 5, 4 and 1 when their mother was killed. They were raised by their mother's brother, Joe Stringer.
Stringer wants to keep his sister's killer behind bars. In a letter read to the board, Stringer told how Thomas Bird has repeatedly tried to use the children to gain his own freedom even publishing their address in a Christian newsletter and urging supporters to write to the young children.
"We have raised the children as our own and have a strong parent-child relationship. We have always tried to shelter them as much as possible from the publicity accompanying their father's crime," Joe Stringer wrote. "Tom Bird, on the other hand, uses the children to further his own cause."
Now that Bird is seeking parole, he is again involving the children, the family said.
One of the children, Andrea, 23, told the parole board in an earlier hearing Monday that Bird was a good father.
The case gained notoriety when Martin Anderson was shot to death in November 1983, four months after Sandra Bird was found dead in what appeared to be a car accident in the Cottonwood River southeast of Emporia.
Both deaths were tied to a plot by Lorna Anderson, Martin Anderson's wife, and Bird. The two were reportedly having an affair.
Bird was convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 for the death of his wife and was sentenced to life in prison. He was acquitted in 1990 of first-degree murder in Martin Anderson's death.
Anderson was convicted of soliciting the murder of her husband and Mrs. Bird.