Jeff Jardine: State Senator irks Stanislaus County Deputy DA by ‘congratulating’ murderer

jjardine@modbee.comMarch 24, 2014 

From the emails and voice mails:

UH, NOT SO FAST – My Feb. 27 column focused on convicted killer Marty Don Spears’ bid for another parole hearing four years ahead of schedule. In 1979, Spears and three accomplices went to a Modesto home and murdered Phil and Kathy Ranzo, using their son’s baseball bat, then stabbing the victims repeatedly. Kathy Ranzo also was raped.

Spears clearly was the ringleader. He, Jeffrey Maria, Darren Lee and Ronald Anderson were convicted in 1980 and sentenced to 25 years to life. Three of them were teens when they committed the crimes. All have been denied parole, including Spears in 2011. His next hearing isn’t supposed to be until 2018. But inmates can request earlier hearings if they can show they have changed dramatically, including completing courses while in prison.

When Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen saw the documents included in the file Spears submitted with his request, she couldn’t believe what they contained: A letter from state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, congratulating Spears for completing an anger management class and offering to help Spears once he gets out of prison.

The problem with that? In the documentation included in his file, Spears details the rush he got from watching Lee rape Kathy Ranzo, and then Spears raped her as well. Then he murdered her. That isn’t an anger management problem.

Owen called Leno’s office to set up a time to chat. When they did, she asked what compelled him to send such a letter of support. He admitted he knew nothing about Spears or the heinous nature of the crimes that sent him to prison. Leno told her that it was a “boilerplate” letter sent to 75 inmates who completed the class. Leno told her she was “giving too much weight to his name attached to the letter and that there was no way this inmate would get released based on the crime and the advocacy of the next of kin.”

Except that during a time when prisons are overcrowded, and with a federal court judge recently overturning part of a victims’ rights law that dictates how frequently prisoners serving life sentences can try for parole, Owen isn’t taking any chances. Nor would she allow letters such as Leno’s to go unchallenged, hence the phone call.

“At the end of the conversation, I asked the senator, in light of what he learned about this ‘monster,’ if he’d be willing to draft a letter of clarification, to which he agreed,” Owen wrote in a letter to the Board of Parole Hearings.

Leno sent her this response:

“The purpose of this letter is to clarify that whereas I have congratulated Mr. Marty Spears for graduating from the Guiding Rage into Power Program (GRIP) at San Quentin State Prison, my statement should not in any be used to advocate for his parole. Those considerations should be properly left to the Board of Parole Hearings. I would encourage all inmates with life sentences to participate in and graduate from the GRIP program.”

And I would encourage all politicians to take the time to understand each case before writing a letter congratulating a murderer for completing a course that doesn’t address the inmate’s specific problem, and a letter the inmate can use to his benefit at a parole hearing.

POOLING RESOURCES The swimming pool at the Red Shield Community Center, used by 4,000 children each summer, is in bad shape and in need of repair. A recent inspection revealed a crack in the pool’s foundation that, along with other needed repairs, will cost roughly $40,000. Put simply, the group needs financial help. Otherwise, the pool won’t be available this summer. Contact Lt. Dustin Rowe at (209) 303-5232 or dustin.rowe@usw.salvationarmy.org. Mail checks to Salvation Army Red Shield, Re: Pool Project, P.O. Box 580480, Modesto 95358.

SPEAKING OF WHICH Modesto firefighter Jim Adams will be among the featured speakers at The Gift of Courage Sacramento Evening of Empowerment on April 2 at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.

Adams and crewmate J.D. Clevenger suffered severe burns when they fell through a roof and into the burning garage of a vacant house on Coston Avenue in Modesto on Jan. 1, 2010. Adams got the worst of it, with burns covering 40 percent of his body.

“The Gift of Courage” is a book written by Ken Streater and includes stories of faith, recovery and inspiration. Adams’ story certainly fits the mold. He endured months of painstaking rehabilitation before finally returning to work 13 months after the incident.

Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Firefighter Burn Institute, Friends of the River, and will fund a scholarship for a high school student. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium’s Jean Runyon Theater. Tickets ($29 adults/$19 youth and college students) can be purchased at www.giftofcourage.com/event.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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