In the shadows of the State Capitol building, they pleaded their case to Gov. Jerry Brown.
They argued, begged and demanded that he reverse the parole board’s decision two weeks ago to release convicted murderer Jeffrey Maria after more than 35 years behind bars. Maria and three others brutally murdered Phillip and Kathy Ranzo in their Modesto home in 1979. They raped Kathy Ranzo.
There is no reason whatsoever Maria should ever enjoy another moment of freedom and joy, they told a line of TV cameras and others who visited the Capitol at an otherwise quiet time.
Such was the argument made by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, who hosted the news conference on the Capitol’s west steps, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara DeJong and Sheriff Adam Christianson, all of whom made the trip to Sacramento on Monday. Such is the demand of the Ranzo family members who have lived the horrors of this tragedy for more than three decades.
Indeed, other convicted killers have been released in years past, Fladager said. But she can’t recall a parole recommendation involving a Stanislaus County case generating so many letters to the governor imploring him to impose his will, might and pen to keep a convicted killer in prison.
I wrote about the parole board’s decision in a July 13 column. Since then, scores of people emailed or called to say they’d written letters to Gov. Brown pleading with him to nix Maria’s parole as he has done to 446 other convicted killers since 2011.
Nor, Fladager said, can she ever remember a contingent from Stanislaus County driving 90 minutes north to make their opinions known to Brown or any other governor when it came to paroling a killer or rapist or both.
“No,” Fladager said. “But I expect there will be more. We will do it in cases when the public will be appalled that a killer will be released.”
Maria originally was sentenced to a life term, but got a break in 1983 when the Rose Bird-led state Supreme Court converted the sentences of ringleader Marty Don Spears, Darren Lee, Ronald Anderson and Maria to consecutive 25-years-to-life terms because they were 17 or younger when convicted.
Consequently, Ranzo family members including son Mark, who was 10 when his parents were murdered, and Phillip Ranzo’s sister, Sandra Ranzo-Howell, have attended every hearing to remind the commissioners just exactly what the four did and how it affected their family.
And until earlier this month, they’d been successful in keeping all four in prison. But this time, the parole commissioners ignored Maria’s unsuccessful, three-year-long escape attempt and recommended he be released. This both infuriates and frightens the Ranzo family members.
That Galgiani hosted isn’t surprising. She maintains a personal connection to these kinds of cases. She still suspects her own cousin might be among the 19 or more people murdered by the “Speed Freak Killers” in San Joaquin County in the late 1990s. She spoke out against the release of one of the murderers, Loren Herzog. He committed suicide in 2012, not long after he was paroled and at a time when his Speed Freak co-killer, Wesley Shermantine, was telling authorities where some of the bodies might be found and was blaming Herzog for the carnage even though Shermantine remains on death row.
On this day, the Ranzos had the floor – the steps of the Capitol’s west entrance, to be specific – and they used the opportunity well. Phil Ranzo’s cousin, Cheryl Guzman, recalled attending the trials and the anguish of seeing photo evidence of the Ranzos from the murder scene.
“Phil’s body ... Kathy’s body, and what they did to them,” she said. “I don’t care if he was only five months away from his 18th birthday. He knew what he was doing. So Gov. Brown, I plead with you: Do not, do not let Jeff Maria or any of them get out.”
And Kathy Ranzo’s sister, Patty Giles, made her case succinctly.
“They need to be left in there to think about what they did,” she said. “My sister was found naked, raped, and when all that was done, just to make sure they were dead, they went back with kitchen knives and stabbed them many, many times. ... Please, Gov. Brown, my sister Kathy and my brother-in-law Phillip did not deserve this. They were good, good people. There’s no reason any of them – Jeff Maria, Ron Anderson, Darren Lee and the star of the show, Marty Don Spears, shouldn’t rot in prison.”
That stated, and powerfully, what impact will it have on Gov. Brown when he reviews the parole board’s decision?
“He’s pretty thoughtful,” Sheriff Adam Christianson said, moments before the event. “When he looks at these cases, he’s pretty deliberate. This is certainly worth the effort.”
Or, as Galgiani put it, “We’re taking it to the next level to make sure the governor hears it loud and clear.”