Monmouth, IL – The man who murdered a much beloved Warren County deputy 37 years ago was recently released from prison after serving only half of his sentence because of a technicality.
Warren County Deputy Sheriff George Darnell was responding to a call about suspicious activity at a bulk fuel storage plant on Dec. 7, 1981, the night he was murdered, The Register Mail reported.
Deputy Darnell interrupted several men who were stealing fuel from the storage plant by loading it into their own tanker trucks, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The deputy attempted to arrest the suspects, but he was ambushed by one of them and shot multiple times in the head and chest.
A Monmouth City police officer spotted Deputy Darnell’s police cruiser parked at the storage plant after the tanker truck had left, and went to check on the situation.
He found the deputy on the ground less than 10 feet from his car. He had been shot four times, The Register Mail reported.
After a long manhunt, David Wolfbrandt was arrested and charged with Deputy Darnell’s murder.
He was convicted in a jury trial and sentenced to 70 years in prison for murder, armed robbery, conspiracy, and armed violence.
However, Wolfbrandt was only destined to serve half of his time because nobody did their full sentence back then, according to The Register Mail.
Illinois’ truth-in-sentencing reforms that require killers to serve their full sentence got adopted in 1995.
Warren County State’s Attorney Andrew Doyle told The Register Mail that he was notified about Wolfbrandt’s impending release last spring.
“In this particular case, it really hit home and struck a nerve with the family of Deputy Darnell and the law enforcement community in our community as a whole because there’s not a lot of these instances that occur in Warren County. Even though this was a while ago, I think it’s still fresh on a lot of people’s minds,” Doyle said.
“It just comes down to [Wolfbrandt] served his sentence and he’s entitled to be out at this point, unfortunately,” he said.
Warren County Chief Deputy Chief Deputy Bruce Morath told KWQC that he vividly remembered Deputy Darnell’s murder.
Deputy Morath was working as a reporter for a local newspaper and received an assignment to go to Deputy Darnell’s murder scene.
“The first person I saw was one of his grandsons,” the man recalled. “He ran up to me and says, they killed Grandpa George.’"
Deputy Morath doesn’t think Wolfbrandt should have been released.
"There are several people who would say he paid 35 years, that was enough. No. I really disagree with that,” he said.
The district attorney said that the family had filed multiple petitions asking that Wolfbrandt not be granted a release, but they were given no relief.
"I definitely think it's a miscarriage of justice," Doyle said.
He told The Register Mail that he had worked with local elected officials to help make sure the Prison Review Board would not allow Wolfbrandt to return to Warren County or any of the neighboring counties when he got out.
Doyle said the Darnell family “thought that Wolfbrandt would die in prison and now this reopens those wounds that had scabbed over knowing that he will be back on the streets when in their minds they thought he would never be free again.”
Deputy Darnell’s son shared his feelings about his father’s murderer with The Register Mail.
“I don’t know the guy at all, really. When I think about him getting out, I think there’s going to be some day that he will go to hell for it. The Lord will put him away,” Donny Darnell said.
The 63-year-old cop killer was released from Centralia Correctional Center in October of 2018. He will serve three years on parole, KWQC reported.