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Brown rejects killer’s parole
• Jeffrey Maria will stay in prison for now
Jeffrey Maria.jpg
Convicted Modesto double killer Jeffrey Maria is now 58.

The state Parole Board determined in June that Jeffrey Maria, who helped torture and kill a Modesto couple in 1979, is ready to be released from prison.

On Oct. 12, Gov. Jerry Brown said no, he isn’t.

This is the third time Brown has overturned the Parole Board’s decision that Maria should be released from prison.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, who fought Maria’s release hailed the decision. Fladager worked with State Senator Cathleen Galgiani to stop the parole from happening.

“This is the third time in the last three years that we have asked for a reversal by the governor of the Parole Board’s decision for Mr. Maria,” said Senator Galgiani. “Maria’s parole would have resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice for the victim’s family, and for our communities. Each time the family attends these parole board hearings, they have to relive the pain of this heinous crime. The family of the victims and Stanislaus County can find some solace in knowing that those behind this atrocity have been served justice.”

Along with then teenagers Marty Spears, Ronald Anderson and Darren Lee, Maria was involved in the brutal killings of Philip and Kathryn Ranzo in June 1979. Philip Ranzo, 30, was a pharmacist and Kathryn, 29, owned her own beauty salon. The teenage suspects showed up at the couple’s door, pretending to be out of gas and needing to use a phone. Acting as a Good Samaritan, Mr. Ranzo directed them to his garage to retrieve a can of gas. Maria and Spears then forced Mr. Ranzo at gunpoint into the garage and hogtied him. Prosecutors say they used his 10-year-old son’s baseball bat to brutally beat him. The killers tortured Mr. Ranzo with a hatchet – slicing his throat and eyelids. He died from his wounds. 

Spears then forced Kathryn Ranzo to an upstairs bedroom where he and others raped her and bludgeoned her to death with an axe and stabbing her. Spears then stabbed Mr. Ranzo in the neck and face to death. Before the four left the murder scene, they ransacked the house and helped themselves to cash and jewelry.

Twenty-three hours before the Ranzo murders, Darren Lee and his three accomplices robbed and assaulted a caretaker of a home in Newman. Lee and his accomplices told the caretaker, Leonard Luna, that they had run out of gas. Once inside the house, they hog-tied Luna, beat him in the head with a revolver, cut his scalp and knocked him unconscious. They then proceeded to ransack the home, stealing multiple guns and weapons, which Darren Lee used while at the Ranzo home.

Kathryn Elaine Moore Ranzo was the daughter of Turlock Police Officer Joseph Moore. She graduated from Turlock High School in 1967.

Philip Ranzo was the son of Marie Kathryn Rhodes Ranzo who worked as a nurse’s aide at the Memorial Hospital Ceres and who attended St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Ceres.

Each defendant was convicted of double murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Relatives of the Ranzos attended a June press conference, including their son Mark, who was 10 at the time of the murders, and Philip’s sister, Sandy Ranzo-Howell. The family has attended 26 parole hearings between all four defendants.

Recent changes in the law allow these killers to accelerate their parole hearings so that they occur once every year instead of no sooner than every three years. Each time, surviving Ranzo family members and next of kin suffer the repeated emotional pain of having to travel to various prisons to speak out against their release.

The governor said the law requires him to consider that many young offenders lack maturity of adults in weighing parole decisions and that Maria had an unstable life due to a childhood of physical and emotional abuse and “negative peer influences and substance misuse.” He commended Maria, now 58, for pursuing college courses and being a Hospice volunteer. But he said he could not overlook his participation in a “cruel and disturbing crime.” Gov. Brown also noted that Maria tried to escape in 2006 and that he continually downplays his role in the crime after he was assigned to secure Mr. Ranzo in the garage. Brown said Maria has given three versions of his role and that one denies seeing Mr. Ranzo tied up, beaten or stabbed and denied ever entering the house for robbery. The governor noted that his accomplices have disputed his versions.

“Whether or not Mr. Maria is telling the truth about his willingness to commit violence or his advanced knowledge that the Ranzos were likely to be killed, this heinous crime has left a lasting mark on the family and on the community,” wrote Gov. Brown. “Not many crimes are worse than a home invasion, rape and double murder.”

Darren Lee, Jeffrey Maria, Ronald Ray Anderson and Marty Spears were all convicted in the 1979 slayings of Modesto couple Kathryn and Philip Ranzo, seen here.