SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It was a murder that sparked horror and outrage among the Sioux Falls community. In all, five men were involved in the killing of Mary K. Ross in 1995. The two men who actually stabbed the 25-year-old mother with steak knives did it for money and drugs. One of those men is Eric Coon. His commutation hearing before the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles Wednesday drew in Ross’ family members from around the country.

Eric Coon is serving a life sentence for the murder of Mary K. Ross

Our KELOLAND News Investigation has been following these new developments.

What’s unusual about this case, is that one of Mary K.’s killers, Eric Coon, got a hearing before the full parole board at all. The other three men involved in her murder, Power, Poppen, and Smith, have all been denied commutation hearings after going before a two-person panel. Poppen has actually been denied five times.

Eric Coon went into prison at the age of 19. Now 46, he says he’s not the same person who viciously attacked the young mother.

“I took a mom away from her child. I took a child away from her mom and her family. And there’s nothing I can do to bring her back. I truly today apologize to the family. I wish I could turn around and face you,” Eric Coon said.

Parole board rules wouldn’t allow him to face them, nor will it allow us to show victims without their permission. But you can hear the emotional testimony of Mary K. Ross’ daughter, who is now 29.

“He deserves to stay here the rest of his life. My entire life was changed and she didn’t even get to know why. She didn’t deserve it. She did not deserve that and if I find it in my heart to forgive this man, that’s between me and God. If you’re sorry, don’t ever do this to my family again. Don’t ask for commutation.”

Mary K. Ross’ 29-year-old daughter

Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Daniel Haggar spoke against a reduction in sentence for Coon, citing his 90 violations in prison, from theft to assault to escape.

“This family has gone through a lot and this hearing has reopened a lot of those wounds. They didn’t want to be here. So when Eric talks about this is a chance for him to apologize, that’s for him. They weren’t seeking that,” Haggar said.

Several people spoke out in Coon’s favor, saying he’s had good behavior for years. Terry Van Zanten runs the metal shop in the prison.

“The Eric that started for us is not the Eric we know today. When he tells me he’s changed, I can see it’s from his heart,” Van Zanten said.

Zachary Shaker is out on parole, after serving 15 years for burglaries.

“He’s always been that father figure and older brother figure. I do believe if he gets out, he’s going to do great. This is my second chance and I’m doing great and I owe it all to him for his guidance, for the love and everything that he showed me in here,” Shaker said.

Mary K’s sister showed her photo while she spoke against the commutation.

“Some claim that his accomplishments show he is a changed man, but what might Mary K.’s accomplishments over the past 27 years have been?” Mary K.’s sister said.

“Mary K. was the fabric that held our family together,” Shand Ross said before the Parole Board.

Mary K.’s brother, Shand Ross, agreed to an on-camera interview.

Kennecke: Did his apology mean anything to you?
Shand Ross: Not really. He said he felt a sense of power throwing her around like a rag doll, so his apology that’s minuscule to me. It doesn’t mean a thing to me.

Shand says Coon got his second chance by avoiding the death penalty.
In the end, the board unanimously voted against recommending a reduced sentence for Coon to the governor.

Shand Ross is nine months younger than his sister, Mary K. Ross

“We are very pleased with this unanimous decision. I hope this is a one-time deal, but if we do have to do it, I will be up here every single year,” Shand said.

In South Dakota, a life sentence means no chance of parole. However, Coon and the other killers can reapply for new clemency hearings once every year.