Debbie Schamber – For The Record

The killer of 31-year-old Danny Gray, an Orange Police Officer killed in the line of duty in June 1974 will not be getting out of prison anytime soon. The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole denied parole for Billy Wayne Dowden,79, and the next review will be in 2021.

Billy Ray Dowden was given a life sentence in the ground breaking case. Although he was not the shooter, it was ruled Gray was murdered because of the actions of Billy Ray Dowden, Charles Dowden and Clifford Blancett and therefore they would be held accountable.

Captain Gray became the third police officer killed in the line of duty during an attempted jail escape.

Before the shooting occurred, Gray would accomplish something he had always wanted to do which was to catch a suspect  during a robbery. The chain of events began around 1 a.m. when he was dispatched to a convenience store located at 10th Street and Green Avenue. The robber, Charles Dowden, walked out of the store still wearing his mask. He was stuffing the pistol into his back pocket when he saw the officers. Dowden reached back for the gun, but realized it was too late and surrendered.

At about 4 a.m., Charles Dowden’s brother, Billy Wayne Dowden, along with his accomplice, Clifford Blancett, arrived at the jail to break his brother out. Charles Dowden was upstairs in a jail cell when the chaos began.

Billy Wayne Dowden, wearing a mask, entered the building by suddenly bursting through the door. Blancett waited outside. Once inside, Billy Wayne Dowden  went through the door of the dispatcher’s office demanding the release of his brother. He coldly put a pistol up to the dispatcher’s face, Ronnie Denton.

Gray, who was standing near the dispatcher’s window,  hit Dowden in the face which knocked him into the hallway. By this time,  Blancett had come into the building and struck Gray over the head with a shot gun which caused the gun to break. Dowden attempted to use Gray as a shield to once again enter the small dispatch room, according to Denton.

In the mean time, Denton ran back to the area near the stairwell of the small office to quickly grab a gun and begin loading it. Denton looked up and saw the door opening again and began shooting. At the time, Denton didn’t know his fellow officer had already been shot.

The next thing Denton knew, Dowden was standing in the hallway at the dispatcher’s window.

Denton had a clear shot of the suspect and knew he had to act quickly. As bullets were fired into the small room, Denton thought of his wife and children and questioned if he was going to live through the gunfire. Denton tried to fire the gun again, but all he heard was a click when the gun failed to fire.

Dowden returned fire a total of nine times. The room grew quiet and Denton seized the opportunity to call for help from other officers.

Dowden was out of bullets, so he and Blancett fled the scene.

After all the commotion and shooting, Gray lay dead with a bullet to the head. His gun had never left its’ holster. It was a tragic end to what began as an exciting night for Gray.

Dowden fled to Louisiana to get help for his injury to his ear which was bleeding. The friend panicked and called police. Not wanting to get caught, Dowden fled to his residence in Hartburg.  Law enforcement officers from throughout the area and Louisiana converged on the small frame house. Nearly 70 officers surrounded the house as a helicopter flew overhead. Men on horseback and  bloodhounds were standing by until he was apprehended.

Blancett was found hiding in a houseboat in West Orange and was arrested.

Billy Wayne Dowden and Clifford Blancett were indicted on a capital murder charges. After the ballistics report showed the bullet didn’t come from either man’s gun, but a fellow officer’s gun, District Attorney, Sharon Bearden worked to ensure justice to the fallen officer.  Bearden utilized a recently passed statue which was if someone’s actions caused a death then murder charges could be brought against the suspects. The case prosecuted by Bearden was the first time the statue was used in the State of Texas.

Charles Dowden, accepted a plea bargain and received a life sentence on charges of murder and aggravated robbery.   Prior to the death of Danny Gray, Charles Dowden was convicted of murder and received 25 years in prison. He shot and killed a man in a bar, according to Stephen Gray son of Danny Gray.  He was recently released from prison on parole and is living in Orange.

Clifford Blancett opted for a trial which took 3 weeks to complete. In the end he was given a life sentence as well. He died while in prison.

Stephen Gray says he is relieved parole was denied for Billy Wayne Dowden.

“I was concerned the parole board would be more concerned with his age and length of time in prison, but they made the right decision,” Gray said. “He is the reason my dad is not alive today, therefore the obvious choice was to keep him behind bars.”

When the time comes for Dowden’s case to be reconsidered for parole, Gray will be ready.

“I am always ready to ensure the men who led to my father’s untimely death will remain in prison.  I will fight for him until I take my last breath.  He was my dad, my hero and as his son I must do everything I can to keep the men responsible in prison.  I am  doing everything I can on behalf of my mother and sister to keep Dowden in prison who forever changed so many lives due to his actions.”

But, justice is not a word Gray would choose in this case. Gray feels Dowden is being held accountable and suffering the consequences for the choices he made throughout his life and  especially on June 28, 1974.

“Justice will be served when the Almighty returns and holds him accountable for eternity,” Gray said. ” I refuse to be bitter because my dad would not want me to live that way.  Living in regret, bitterness and anger only hurts you.”

Over the years, it has been the Gray’s strong faith which has helped the family remain strong. It was also his mother and step-father’s love and support. Gray added his faith is active and a part of who he is as a person and the family as a whole.

” Our family trusts in Jehovah to deliver justice for Danny,” Gray said.

The Gray family wishes to thank the citizens of Orange for their support and efforts to help keep Dowden in prison.  Because of people like  Don Sullivan, a dear and close friend, and many others in Orange, his memory is kept alive. Although many years has passed, people who knew Danny Gray still miss him tremendously and talk about him as if this horrific event happened yesterday.

“His kindness, compassion, witty personality and Christian walk affected many people,” Stephen Gray said of his father. “I am forever grateful for everyone who has contributed to continuously talking about him and demanding the ones responsible for his death stay in prison.”