Crime

He’s in prison for Modesto couple’s brutal death. He’s been granted parole again.

Sandy Ranzo-Howell and other family members are pictured Monday July 27, 2015, on the State Capitol steps to protest the recommended release of convicted murderer Jeffrey Maria.
Sandy Ranzo-Howell and other family members are pictured Monday July 27, 2015, on the State Capitol steps to protest the recommended release of convicted murderer Jeffrey Maria. File Photo

A man convicted in the brutal murder of a Modesto couple has been found suitable for parole for the third time in three years.

Gov. Jerry Brown twice has reversed the parole board's decision and ordered Jeffrey Maria to remain in prison for the June 1979 killings of Philip and Kathryn Ranzo.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office is urging residents to join the local prosecutors in asking the governor to reverse the parole board's decision again. The prosecutors are asking residents to write letters to the Governor's Office.

Maria was one of four teenagers who killed the Ranzos and later were convicted of murder. Prosecutors have said Maria, Marty Spears, Ronald Anderson, Darren Lee and Jeffrey Maria planned a home invasion robbery of the Ranzos' home.

The teenagers pretended to be out of gas and asked the Ranzos to use a phone. They brandished a gun, and Phillip Ranzo was tied up before Spears hit his head with a baseball bat and an axe, according to prosecutors.

Spears ordered Kathryn Ranzo to an upstairs bedroom, where he raped and killed her by beating her with an axe and stabbing her in the throat, prosecutors have said. Spears then stabbed Phillip Ranzo multiple times in the face and neck.

In April 2017, the Governor's office overturned Maria’s grant of parole, saying Maria minimized his involvement in the murders during his January 2017 parole hearing. Prosecutors said Maria's perception of the murders has not changed, but Maria was found suitable for parole at a June 6 hearing.

Maria, 56, remains incarcerated at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. State parole officials have 120 days to review the decision. Then, the Governor’s Office will review Maria's case and determine whether to uphold, overturn or modify the state parole board’s decision.

Prosecutors said recent changes in the law have allowed Maria and some of his conspirators to accelerate the scheduling of their parole hearings.

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Kathy and Phil Ranzo were murdered in their Modesto home on June 25, 1979. Olan MIlls

Spears, 56, was found suitable for parole in January 2017, but the governor overturned that decision four months later. He remains incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, but he could get another parole hearing later this month.

Ronald Anderson, 57, was found suitable for parole in December 2017, but the governor overturned that decision five months later. He remains at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and could get another parole hearing in June 2019.

Darren Lee, 55, has been denied parole five times; most recently in March 2015. He remains at San Quentin State Prison and is scheduled for a March 2020 parole hearing.

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