Supreme Court reinstates life sentence for convicted rapist after local judge’s pardon

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated a life sentence Thursday for a convicted rapist that a district court judge tried to pardon in a parole hearing gone awry.

Judge Gail Horne Ray
Judge Gail Horne Ray

Donald Ray Link will return to serving a life sentence instead of the option of parole 10 years into his sentence, per the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I agree that the district court judge clearly erred in resorting to error patent review,” justices wrote in the Supreme Court ruling. “It is certainly not a means by which a district court can vacate a decades-long, final conviction in response to a motion to clarify sentence.”

In an April 2024 hearing designed to determine parole eligibility, Judge Gail Horne Ray overturned Link’s conviction completely. Louisiana Supreme Court justices wrote Ray overstepped her purview with that ruling.

“The district court judge’s ill-conceived response to the order was to issue a grossly erroneous ruling that had a retaliatory if not contemptuous tone and, incredibly, resulted in the fashioning of an illegal remedy that even defendant had not requested. At a minimum, the action by the district court judge achieved the opposite of what is required by Canon 2.”

Canon 2 is a key component of the code of conduct for Louisiana judges designed to prevent conflicts of interest.

“A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” according to the guidance.

Ray’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III told UWK that he was glad the higher court stepped in.

“We are grateful that the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated this decades-old conviction and sentence,” he said, “The court went one step further, ruling on the defendant’s motion that was originally before the trial court, confirming that the sentence imposed in 1973 was absolutely legal and valid.”

Judge Gail Horne Ray pardons convicted rapist’s life sentence

19th JDC Judge Gail Horne Ray held a hearing in April 2024 to decide whether Donald Ray Link was eligible for parole 10 years into a life sentence for rape, not whether he was guilty. 

But, Judge Ray reversed Link’s conviction because she said the court gave the 1972 jury incorrect instructions about potential parole, according to the court transcript. 

“So it appears that the jury rendered the verdict that the Court gave improper instruction on and therefore it is my opinion that the verdict is invalid,” Ray said. “The sentence is invalid. And that this conviction is overturned.”

Ray said in the hearing that Link should not have to serve his sentence if the jury was not told he could maybe get parole after 10 years. 

“I think in the interest of justice that a person is entitled to be convicted based on the proper application of the law,” Ray said. 

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said Ray’s actions were a blatant overreach of authority. 

“She has no authority whatsoever to rule the way that she wrote,” Moore said. 

Link was found guilty of breaking into a woman’s home and threatening her, and her children, with a kitchen knife. Link confessed to raping the woman, according to court documents. 

Allison Miller Rutzen, assistant district attorney in the 19th Judicial District Court, wrote in a court filing that Ray’s actions calls the entire legal system into question. 

“If judges simply do what they want, when they want, the fundamental purpose of having law and procedure goes out the wayside,” Rutzen wrote. “Why file or argue any pleading if the trial judge already has his or her mind convinced of the end result he or she desires? Why have legislation, codes of procedure, or caselaw?”

The governor of Louisiana has the power to pardon someone convicted of a crime, or to shorten their sentence, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. That is not up to an individual judge. 

A PERSONAL HISTORY AND A FUTURE IN RAPE CASES

Judge Ray represented her son, Nelson D. Taylor Jr, in an alleged string of burglaries and rapes in November 1995. Taylor Jr. pled guilty to breaking into the homes of girls he knew from school and raping them. Ray is still named as an attorney representing Taylor Jr., according to court documents.

Moore said he could not comment on whether Ray’s personal history had an influence in her ruling on the Link case, but his office will pay close attention to Ray’s courtroom because of “how far she overreached.” 

“That is something that we are mindful of and will continue to monitor,” he said.

The same judge is presiding over another rape case with widespread scrutiny, the Madison Brooks’ rape and death case.

“I am hopeful and praying that justice will prevail based on the evidence on what we have,” said Brooks’ mother Ashley Baustert. “I’m hopeful that Madi will get her day in trial and that justice will be served.”

Kiran Chawla and Zack Newman contributed to this report.

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