By Debby Schamber
For the Record 

Justice Finally Served


Last updated 2/20/2024 at 8:25pm

This is the narrow hallway where Billy Wayne Dowden and Clifford Blansett declared they were there to break Charles Dowden out of jail. It is also where Danny Gray fought with the suspects before his death. 

After nearly 50 years, justice was finally served for the family of Orange Police Officer Danny Gray who was killed in the line of duty. 

Billy Wayne Dowden died in prison on February 1. He has remained in prison after pleading guilty of capital murder charges for the June 28th, 1974 death of Captain Danny Gray, 31, of the Orange Police Department. 

"No more parole parole board hearings and my mother and sister no longer have to relive the trauma brought by this man," said Stephen Gray, Danny Gray's son. 

Captain Danny Gray, was a 10 year veteran of OPD and worked the night shift. It was well known among his peers he wanted to catch a suspect during a robbery. That day would arrive. But, it would also be his last day before being fatally shot.

The unraveling of the events began around 1 a.m. when he was dispatched to the Sak-N-Pak drive-in grocery at 10th Street and Green Avenue. Charles Dowden was walking out of the store still wearing his mask and trying to stuff the gun into his back pocket when he saw officers outside. He tried to reach back for the pistol. But, he quickly realized the efforts were futile, and surrendered. He was arrested and taken to the Orange jail. 

Billy Wayne Dowden, who had been at the store with his brother, decided to break him out of jail. He drove to his brother's house where he picked up his sister-in-law, Darlene, and told her of his plan. Dowden and Darlene then drove to Clifford Blansett's house where they picked up a loaded rifle and pistol. From there the trio drove to the police station/jail arriving around 4 a.m., according to the information from documents from the Texas State of Appeals. 

Danny Gray, dispatcher Ronnie Denton and Officer Bryan Windham were doing paperwork when Billy Wayne Dowden boldly entered the police station and directly went to the dispatcher's office which is located a short distance inside the door. 

Dowden slammed open the door to the dispatcher's office and pointed an automatic pistol at the officers. He declared he had come to get Charles. 

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

 "I pulled the pistol out after I said that. I was standing in the doorway. One of the officers grabbed me. I tried to hit him, but he was holding my arms. I just started shooting then. I shot through the little window. I don't know how many times I shot, it must have been 6 or 7 times. I just kept pulling the trigger," Billy Wayne Dowden would later say, according to documents. 

The officers were stunned at the offset, but quickly regained composure. It was Danny Gray who had lunged at Dowden while grabbing the gun while placing his other arm around Dowden to force him into the hallway. The door, which operated on a spring closing device closed automatically behind them, according to documents. 

An exchange of gunfire followed. Windham and Denton, not knowing whether the  assailants had left or whether they had taken a breather, radioed for help. It was not until Windham crawled back to join Denton in the back area of the dispatch room that he knew the man lying in the doorway was Captain Gray, and the suspects, out of bullets, fled into the darkness.

Gray was rushed to Orange Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Dowden initially sought help from a friend to help with his bleeding ear, but the friend panicked and called police. Dowden left to find solace elsewhere. 

The break would be short lived as officers moved swiftly. By afternoon officers throughout the area and Louisiana converged on a small frame house located in northern Orange County. Nearly 70 officers surrounded the house with a helicopter flying overhead with horses and bloodhounds nearby.

Chief Deputy Charles Morvent, Jr. telephoned the house and informed, Billy Wayne Dowden, he had a warrant for his arrest, and there was a "small army" surrounding the house.

Dowden surrendered while Blansett was found hiding in a houseboat in West Orange and taken into custody too. 

Judge James D. Stringer, the justice of the peace for Precinct 1, set the bond at $500,000. Sharon Bearden, the district attorney, was responsible for the case against the men. 

Billy Wayne Dowden and Clifford Blansett were indicted on capital murder charges.

The prosecution was steadfast in their dedication to the task at hand of a successful prosecution of the suspects. Bearden utilized a recently passed statue. This was the first time the statue was used in the State of Texas.

"We just had to do what we could within the law," Bearden said. 

Charles Dowden, who was upstairs in the jail during the breakout attempt, received a life sentence on charges of murder and aggravated robbery. The jury wanted to give him the death penalty but it was abolished in 1973. 

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.

"This man's rap sheet is beyond comprehension," Stephen Gray said. "He is extremely violent and has committed the worst crimes imaginable."

Nevertheless, he was released from prison in 2015 and lives in Orange. He is currently on state parole. 

The Gray family feels their rights as victims were not considered or met under the law. They did not know he was being considered for release. They were notified after the parole board had already decided on his release.

Blansett also went to trial which lasted about three weeks. He refused to plead guilty to murder, but pleaded guilty to other charges, such as felon in possession of a firearm. However, when the guilty verdict was returned he received a life sentence. He later died in prison. 

Following a change of venue to Harris County, Billy Wayne Dowden pleaded guilty to the indictment and waived trial by jury pursuant to a plea bargain agreement. He was sentenced to life in prison, according to documents. 

Stephen Gray never met Charles Dowden but did meet his brother, Billy Wayne Dowden, and Clifford Blansett years later while they were behind bars. Both of them continued to blame others for their actions and never took responsibility even after 25 years of imprisonment, according to Stephen Gray.

Following the death of Danny Gray, his family was left to pick up the pieces. After nine years of marriage, Gail, had two children, Stephen, 4 years old and 7-year-old Stephanie. 

One thing Billy Wayne and Charles Dowden and Blansett will never be able to take away is the love the Gray family shared. Their treasured memories will always belong to them. 

Stephen Gray remembers a game he and his father played called "hut hut." It was in the hallway while the Dallas Cowboys game played in the background. 

"I would try to run past him and he would attempt to tackle me," Stephen Gray said. 

The joyous laughter that once filled the hallway is gone as the family moved to other cities to make new memories. But, they continued to honor and cherish the man they knew and loved throughout their lives and share to future generations. 

On the day he died, Danny Gray received a letter he had been waiting for. It was an acceptance letter to go to Quantico, Va. for the FBI academy. Danny Gray was a police officer by night, but by day attended Lamar University for a degree in Criminal Justice. Gray had plans for his life ahead such as becoming a FBI agent. 

His plans for the future also included attending law school, becoming an attorney and eventually a prosecutor as well. 

The reason the library at OPD is named after Danny Gray is because of his encouraging officers to get their college degrees and educate themselves, according to Stephen Gray. 

Danny Gray's profession also influenced his children. Both chose a service profession. Stephen Gray wanted to honor his father and continue the legacy of "fighting crime" and chose law enforcement. Stephanie Gray chose nursing. 

Stephen Gray married and has three children. His oldest daughter is a special education teacher. His son recently graduated from college and is considering a career in law enforcement. His youngest daughter recently accepted a scholarship to play volleyball in college. 

Stephanie Gray-Haley is married and has five boys. Three of her sons are married while another son is busy with his career while another is finishing up in college.  Stephanie is busy working as a nurse, but she males sure she is always available for her four grandchildren. 

Following the death of Danny, Gail later married Randy Powell. He was a wonderful step-father to the Gray children. He encouraged the family to talk about their father and share their feelings.

Tragedy struck again when Gail lost her husband to cancer in November 2023.  Forever strong in her faith, Gail is active in her church and is still serving people. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends. 

Stephen Gray's dedication to seeing justice served remained as he made his way to Austin for the parole board hearings to keep Billy Wayne Dowden in prison. He thought it was important for the parole board to see his face and not just a letter from the son or family member.

The family and friends of Danny Gray faithfully wrote letters to the parole board. Each time Dowden came up for parole, the entire family wrote to protest his release. 

The former dispatch room sits vacant. It is small and holds boxes of papers. 

"I never look forward to writing these letters. It is such a painful experience to put down on paper how losing my dad effects me in my life everyday. The loss I feel is overwhelming even after all of these years," Stephanie Gray-Haley wrote to the parole board. 

Her son, Hendon Gray Haley, also wrote to the parole board. He stated he was honored to have the his middle name Gray in like that of his grandfather. 

 "He was a great man and will be remembered as such," he wrote. 

For the Gray family there is a sense of relief with no more parole board hearings and letter writing to relive the trauma. 

"We can finally lay this matter to rest," Stephen Gray said.

From here, the Gray family will continue living their lives and honoring Danny Gray and his legacy. 

"Even though it has been almost 50 years, we continue to miss him everyday," Stephen Gray said.


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