Darren Lee, one of four people convicted in the 1979 murders of Phillip and Kathryn Ranzo of Modesto, was found unsuitable for parole by the state Board of Parole Hearings at San Quentin State Prison on Thursday.
Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth O’Hara De Jong appeared at the hearing and argued for continued confinement based on 51-year-old Lee’s lack of insight into the crime and his lack of programming in self-help. The Board of Parole Hearings agreed and denied parole for five more years.
On June 25, 1979, Lee, then 16, and three others – Marty Spears, Jeffrey Maria and Ronald Anderson – planned a home invasion of the Ranzos’ Modesto residence.
They pretended to be out of gas and asked the Ranzos if they could use their phone. The phone was out of order, but Phillip Ranzo offered them a can of gas and went to the garage to get it.
Spears and the others followed him. Phillip Ranzo then was tied up and beaten over the head with a baseball bat and an ax.
Kathryn Ranzo, who was in the living room, was ordered at gunpoint to go upstairs. In a bedroom, she was raped, hit in the head with an ax and stabbed in the throat.
The men then returned to the garage and stabbed Phillip Ranzo multiple times in the face and neck. They ransacked the house, stealing cash and diamonds.
The Ranzos’ 10-year-old son, Mark, was at his grandmother’s house with a visiting 11-year-old cousin, Mike Naranjo, when the killings occurred.
O’Hara De Jong told the board that continued confinement was necessary to keep the public safe. Phillip Ranzo’s sister, Sandy Ranzo-Howell, addressed the board and asked for the maximum denial of parole, according to a news release from the District Attorney’s Office. She said her brother and sister-in-law were beautiful people, not just a “case file.” She added that Phillip was a pharmacist who loved to help people and Kathryn owned a beauty shop and worked diligently to reach her own dreams.
Mark Ranzo also attended to try to ensure that Lee was not released on parole. Naranjo was present at the hearing, too, supporting his family in opposing parole.
Lee was convicted of two counts of murder in the first degree and one count of robbery while armed with a firearm. The case was moved to Sacramento County in 1980 based on a change-of-venue motion. Originally, Lee was sentenced to life without parole. His sentence was later reduced based on the argument that such a sentence was cruel and unusual punishment for a minor. Lee is serving two consecutive sentences of 25 years to life. He has now served 34 years in prison.
Lee will be scheduled for another hearing in 2020.
In 2012, Lee was found unsuitable for parole and given a seven-year denial with a new hearing date in 2019. However, in light of SB 260 (legislation regarding the sentencing of youth offenders), Lee received a hearing date four years early. He was advised at the end of this hearing that he retains the right to advance his hearings if he believes he has made progress toward release.