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Man sentenced to life in prison denied parole: Olson, convicted for murdering his estranged wife and a teenage girl, will likely never be set free

Gary Dean Olson, 70, listens to the North Dakota Parole Board via interactive television on Monday at the State Penitentiary in Bismarck. Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — More than 35 years after he was convicted of murdering his estranged wife and a 16-year-old girl from West Fargo, Gary Dean Olson had one chance Monday to make his case for parole.

But the 70-year-old inmate wasn’t sure he wanted freedom, despite his continued claims of innocence.

“I’m not that interested in getting out,” Olson told the North Dakota Parole Board on Monday, appearing by video from the State Penitentiary. “I’ve been in here so long, and I’ve got everything here for me.”

Citing the seriousness of his crimes, the board unanimously denied parole and ordered Olson to serve the balance of his sentence without further consideration, meaning he will likely never go free.

“That’s OK. Yeah, that’s fine. That’s fine. Thank you,” Olson said before promptly walking off-camera.

Olson was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his estranged wife, Dixie, whose bludgeoned body was found in bed by her 9-year-old daughter on Jan. 24, 1977. He was arrested March 23, 1977, and a Cass County jury found him guilty of murder on June 21, 1977, court records show.

After being sentenced for his wife’s murder, Olson was charged in December 1977 with the earlier shooting death of 16-year-old Pollie Johnson, the daughter of a North Dakota highway patrolman. Johnson was found murdered in her family’s home just north of West Fargo on Aug. 6, 1976, having been shot twice in the head.

Olson was convicted of the murder in March 1979 and sentenced to a second life term to run consecutively with the first.

In 1993, the state Pardon Board reduced the sentences on both counts to 99 years. Olson’s current release date on the first term is Feb. 9, 2043, after which he will start the second term, according to Patrick Bohn, clerk for the parole board.

Olson has attempted numerous appeals over the years without success. The North Dakota Supreme Court has upheld both of his murder convictions, and a federal judge in 1991 refused to review his first murder conviction.

Olson still claims he didn’t kill anybody.

“I maintain my innocence, always have and always will until the day I die,” he told the parole board.

Asked by a board member what he’d like to see happen at Monday’s hearing, Olson replied, “I’m not sure.” He said he has a lot of medical needs and “a lot of surgery coming up,” and that he would only have three reasons for wanting to get out of prison: his family, who he said wouldn’t keep coming to see him unless he tried for parole; to go walleye fishing, “which I’m sure I can’t do on parole;” and to play in a Texas hold ‘em poker tournament.

Olson told the board he wouldn’t participate in treatment.

“I like who I am,” he said. “If God wants to change me, he can.”

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.