Just 18 months ago, about two dozen people stood on the Capitol steps and implored Gov. Jerry Brown to keep a killer in prison.
Now, Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Beth DeJong said, it’s “time to roll up our sleeves and fight again at the Capitol.”
Why? In the summer of 2015, a pair of commissioners from the state board of parole hearings gave Jeffrey Maria a release date. Maria was one of one of four convicted in the brutal 1979 murders of Modestans Phil and Kathy Ranzo, and the rape of Kathy Ranzo. He was the first among the killers to be recommended for parole.
The governor had 90 days to review the recommendation and either allow or nix it before Maria would walk out of prison a free man. So kin to the Ranzos, including son Mark and Phil Ranzo’s sister, Sandy Ranzo Howell, orchestrated the protest in Sacramento followed by a letter-writing campaign intended to pummel Brown with objections to Maria’s release. It worked.
In November 2015, Brown rejected Maria’s parole, writing, “Mr. Maria’s crime was especially gruesome and disturbing. This was a night of horrors; the Ranzos were bound and beaten, Mrs. Ranzo was brutally raped, and the couple’s necks were stabbed and slashed. This shocking crime had a profound impact on the Ranzos’ loved ones. Family members have appeared at Mr. Maria’s hearings to express their ongoing sense of loss, and many members of the community have written to oppose parole.”
But due to SB 260 allowing inmates to apply for parole well ahead of their scheduled hearings and giving more weight to parole for those who offended as juveniles, Maria didn’t have to wait long for another chance at freedom.
Wednesday at the state prison in Vacaville, parole commissioners again granted Maria a parole date.
“We’re really disappointed, but not surprised,” said Ranzo Howell, who attended the hearing along with her son, Michael Naranjo, Mark Ranzo and DeJong.
Why wasn’t she surprised? Howell said it was because one of the commissioners, Terri Turner, was on the panel that wanted to release Maria in 2015 and she made it clear early on in the hearing that she planned to do the same this time as well.
“She started asking questions directly toward that,” Howell said. “It was like she was leading him to the right answers.”
What makes the commissioners think a man who was among the four killers in 1979, went to prison a year later and attempted to chisel his way out of prison while at Solano more than a decade ago is now parole material?
“(Turner) said, ‘It’s not just since November (2015),’ ” DeJong said. “ ‘His last six years have been crime-free in prison.’ ”
Gee, he hasn’t committed a known crime in prison for a while. Pardon DeJong and the Ranzos if they are not impressed. They’ve lived since 1979 with the images of their loved ones being sadistically murdered. They’ve now attended 19 parole hearings or related events to ensure that the killers stay behind bars, DeJong said. They’ll attend No. 20 in two weeks, when they go to San Quentin for another parole hearing. That one will be for Marty Don Spears, the supposed ringleader of the killer quartet. They’ve also attended hearings for Darren Lee and Ronald Anderson, the other two convicted in the killing
“There’s no reason for the Ranzos to keep having to do this,” DeJong said. “It’s a sad time when we, as prosecutors and next of kin, have to fight so hard on the back end of a life sentence to try to keep them in.”
Once again, Brown will have 90 days to review the parole board’s decision to set him free. And once again, the Ranzos along with DeJong and certainly a few politicians will go to Sacramento to oppose it, that date to be determined. They will again ask friends, supporters and others to stuff Brown’s mailbox with letters demanding he once again keep Maria behind bars. A blueprint for success?
It worked the last time. They just didn’t think the next time would come so soon.