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With parole looming in brutal murders, family seeks Governor’s intervention
Maria parole
Surviving members of the Ranzo family have attended 32 parole and other post-conviction hearings for Jeffrey Maria and the others convicted of their brutal killings over the years. Pictured above is the 2018 Sacramento press conference protesting Maria’s parole (Photo contributed).

The murders of Philip and Kathryn Ranzo may have happened more than 40 years ago, but the impact of their deaths — the sheer barbarity and mercilessness of it — remains fixed in the community.

It’s rehashed by detectives who were playing cops and robbers when the killings happened. Prosecutors, who stroll the courtroom halls now, were mere toddlers in 1979, but every few years they return to the Ranzo case file.

It’s retold in snippets and whispers around longtime watering holes; resurrected in newsrooms and reposted on social media.

Ask family and friends and they will tell you it shouldn’t be a case that is brought back into the light every few years. They’ll tell you the guilty parties — four once young men, now all in their 60s — should be jailed and forgotten. But they’re not. Every few years one of them comes up for parole and the fight for justice for the Ranzos is renewed.

Family, friends, and people both near and far who are drawn to the case are rallying again to fight for the Ranzos. This time it’s Jeffrey Allen Maria, 61, formerly of Turlock who has been deemed suitable for parole. But the idea that he will walk out of prison anytime soon is far from a certainty.

“Today, the cards were against us,” Maurene Todd-Ranzo wrote on March 8 on the Facebook page Justice (No Parole) for the Killing of Phil and Kathy Ranzo. “Today was the 32nd parole hearing amongst the four crime partners who were found guilty each on two counts of first-degree murder. The BOP [Board of Parole] based their decision on diminished capacity. This means that because he was a minor (17 years old) he did not have the brain development to know right from wrong. It doesn’t matter that it was premeditated, that they committed another crime the night before with the same motive or that they were armed with guns. It doesn’t matter the brutality of the crime or that Phillip and Kathy both were tied up and tortured before being murdered. It doesn’t matter that he could have, at any time gone for help.”

Undaunted, Todd-Ranzo sums up her post with a call for action. “Today also marks the first day of our next fight! We will petition to have Governor Newsom overturn the decision of the BOP. This is not our first rodeo. We have successfully had all previous grants of parole overturned. The Ranzo family kindly asks for your help in being successful yet one more time.”

Kathryn Ranzo, who was 29 years old at the time of her death, grew up in Turlock. She was the daughter of Turlock Police Officer Joseph Moore and graduated from Turlock High School in 1967. She had turned her ability to style perfectly coifed hair into a thriving salon business, while her husband Philip, 30 years old when he was killed, was a successful pharmacist. He 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.

They had one young son, 10-year-old Mark, who liked to play baseball.

It was 2:30 p.m. on June 25, 1979 and an employee of the Ranzos had grown worried as to why neither had shown up for work that day. He went to the Ranzos’ Modesto home and discovered a horrific scene of brutality. Philip Ranzo was discovered lying face down, hog-tied on the garage floor, dead. The authorities were called and responding officers found Kathryn dead in a third-story bathroom, partially nude.

The night before Leonard Luna had been robbed and viciously assaulted while working as a caretaker at a Newman home. Four young men — Jeffrey Maria, Marty Spears, Ronald Anderson and Darren Lee — had all approached the home under the pretense they had run out of gas and needed to use the telephone. Once inside the house, they hogtied Luna and beat him in the head with a revolver.  The group proceeded to ransack the home, stealing multiple guns and weapons.

It was the same ruse they would use to enter the home of the Ranzos.

It was 9:45 p.m. when the knock came on the Ranzos door. Outside, stood Spears and Lee, who told Philip Ranzo the story of running out of gas and asked if they could use the telephone. Philip Ranzo, in an act family members said was completely in line with his character, offered to help the two young men out by giving them some gas and led them to his garage.

In the garage, Spears and Lee pulled out their guns and ordered Philip Ranzo to the floor, where Spears hogtied his legs and feet together. Maria, who had been hiding in the bushes, had now joined them in the garage. Someone had picked up the baseball bat that had been used earlier that day as father and son held an impromptu batting practice in the yard.

The Ranzos had been targeted because the four men believed they had a large amount of money in the home. They tortured Philip Ranzo by slicing his eyelids, beating him with the baseball bat and then stabbing him in the neck, leaving him to die in the garage.

Lee, Spears, and Maria then went inside the home. They forced Kathryn Ranzo at gunpoint into her upstairs bedroom where she was tied up and raped by Spears. When her body was later found there were signs that she had been struck multiple times in the head with an axe and suffered a fatal stab wound to the throat as well as multiple cuts to her eyelids and face.

Mark was not home, having stayed the night with his grandparents.

About 20 minutes after the men had entered the Ranzo home, Maria and Lee ran out with hands gripping envelopes of cash and jewels, according to Anderson, who served as the lookout and the getaway driver.

Maria told the Board that he never went into the home despite having previously told a friend that he went inside and helped in the search for money, something both Spears and Lee confirmed. Getaway driver Anderson also told investigators that Maria had an envelope of cash and valuables in his hands when he ran from the Ranzo home.

At the parole hearing on March 8, Deputy District Attorney Neumann urged the Board to deny parole, arguing that Maria demonstrated a lack of significant insight into the role he played in the killings and had lied to the Board about the facts concerning his involvement in the crime.

Surviving members of the victims’ family also attended and asked the Board to deny parole. Family members have attended 32 parole and other post-conviction hearings for Maria and the others over the years.

After deliberations, the Board determined that Maria qualified for both elder parole and youthful offender considerations, that he did not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety and granted parole.

This was Maria’s sixth parole hearing. He was previously denied parole in 2013 and 2020. On three previous occasions Maria was granted parole in 2015, 2017, and 2018, but those decisions were reversed each time by then Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Board’s decision to grant parole advances to the Decision Review Unit of the Board of Parole Hearings, which has 120 days to review the grant of parole. If the Decision Review Unit approves the grant of parole, Gov. Newsom will receive notice of the parole grant and has 30 days to reverse, modify, refer to the full Board, sitting en banc, or let the grant of parole stand.

Members of the community who wish to comment on Maria’s potential parole release are encouraged to contact Governor Gavin Newsom by mail at: 1021 O Street, Suite 9000 Sacramento, CA 95814; by phone: (916) 445-2841; or (Scroll down to the comment subject “Parole – Governors Review” and include Jeffrey Allen Maria, CDCR #C17137.).

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Board of Parole Hearings P.O. Box 4036 Sacramento, CA 95812-4036; (916) 445-4072.