CALIFORNIA’S DEATH ROW MURDERERS HAVE EARNED THEIR SENTENCE
Richard Ramirez, known in the media as “The Night Stalker”, engaged in a horrific spree of murder, rape, kidnap and torture in Northern and Southern California from 1984-85. His first known victim, 9-year-old Mei Leung, was found dead in a San Francisco hotel basement in April 1984, but it wasn’t until a DNA match in 2009 that Ramirez was linked to the crime. Ramirez terrorized and mutilated his victims, which ranged in age from 6 to 83 years old. One, 44-year-old Maxine Zazzara, had her eyes gouged out and carvings on her breast. Another, 83-year-old Malvial Keller, was beaten with a hammer. After murdering Maxon Kneiding and his wife, Lela, Ramirez mutilated their bodies.
Ramirez was finally captured in August 1985 following a shooting in Mission Viejo. In 1989, Ramirez was sent to Death Row after being convicted of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries.
Tiequon Cox, a known street gang member affiliated with the Crips, carried out the execution-style killings in 1984 of a 57-year-old grandmother, her 23-year-old daughter, and her grandsons, ages 8 and 10. Cox entered the Los Angeles home of Ebora Alexander, mother of UCLA and 49ers football great Kermit Alexander. He killed her at the kitchen table, then shot the others in a bedroom. After returning to the getaway car, he told the driver, “I just blew that bitch’s head off, so drive.”
The court called the crime a “coldly-premeditated murder for hire.” Cox was convicted of 4 counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death in 1986. He nearly escaped from San Quentin in 2000.
Robert Rhoades, who worked as a barber, killed 8-year-old Michael Lyons in 1996 after hours of torture and rape. Rhoades kidnapped the Yuba City child as he walked home from his elementary school, where he was in third grade. The victim’s body was found the next day in brush along the Feather River. Rhoades was arrested after he was found trying to dig his truck from mud about a half mile from the scene.
That wasn’t his only victim. DNA later linked Rhoades to the 1984 kidnap, rape and murder of 18-year-old Julie Connell, a straight “A” student, in Alameda County. That discovery took place after Rhoades was sent to Death Row in 1999 for the murder of Michael Lyons. Rhoades also kidnaped and tortured a woman in Yuba County in 1985, who managed to escape his car.
Marco Topete, who had a long history of violence and was on parole from Pelican Bay State Prison, gunned down Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz in 2008. Deputy Diaz had been trying to stop Topete after a high-speed chase. Even more alarming, the suspect’s infant son was in the car’s back seat at the time. Evidence showed that Topete abandoned the car, then ambushed the deputy with an AK47 assault rifle, firing 17 shots as the officer checked on the child’s status.
Topete was identified as a high-ranking member of the Norteno gang member, and had been in prison for trying to shoot three rival gang members in Woodland. He was sent to San Quentin in 2012 after a judge noted the vicious and callous nature of the crime.
Lawrence Bittaker is a serial killer who, with a companion, used a large van to prey on young girls in Southern California. The killings took place between June and October 1979, when 5 teen aged girls were kidnaped, raped, tortured, and murdered. His first victim, 16-year-old Cindy Schaeffer, was kidnaped near Redondo Beach, raped, then strangled to death with a wire coat hanger and pliers. Two other teen victims were killed with a sledgehammer and an ice pick. The last victim was dumped on a residential front lawn. Bittaker tape recorded some of the assaults.
He was arrested after a prison acquaintance reported the crimes. Bittaker was convicted in 1981 of rape, torture, kidnap and murder and sent to San Quentin.
Charles Ng is one of California’s most notorious serial killers. After being thrown out of the Marines for theft, Ng partnered with Leonard Lake in an extended plot of kidnap, rape, torture and murder. The crimes took place at Lake’s remote cabin in Calaveras County. The crimes came to light in 1985. Investigators later recovered the bodies of 7 men, 3 women, 2 baby boys, and 45 pounds of bone fragments from the site. Investigators also found, in a bunker, a large cache of weapons and videotapes that Ng had made of some of the murders.
Lake committed suicide as police closed in. Ng fled to Canada but was extradited and convicted in 1999 of multiple counts of murder.
John Ghobrial is an Egyptian national who befriended, then killed 12-year-old Juan Delgado, who went to middle school near his home in Orange County. In 1998, Ghobrial forced Delgado into the shed where he was living, tortured and molested him, then killed him. Ghobrial then used a meat cleaver to dismember the body. He hid portions of the body in concrete cylinders that he had purchased at a home improvement store.
Ghobrial had faced sexual assault charges in his native Egypt before immigrating to California. He was sentenced to death in 2002.
Ciutlahuac Tahua “Tao” Rivera, a known gang member, shocked the city of Merced in 2004 when he shot and killed 34-year-old Officer Stephan Gray during a routine traffic stop. It was the first time a Merced police officer had been murdered in the line of duty. Rivera was a parolee who ran from the vehicle, then turned and shot the officer, hitting him twice.
Rivera escaped to San Diego but was arrested 17 days after the killing. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007.
Joseph Aguayo, a career criminal with a long record, kidnaped and strangled 29-year-old Eva Chu in Sacramento in 1979. Chu, who was 7 months pregnant, had left her job in downtown Sacramento, enroute to a doctor’s appointment, when she disappeared. Her body was found 4 days later by a creek bed. Aguayo had a history of violence, including a home invasion robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder. In that case, he beat his girlfriend then left her locked in the trunk of her car to die.
Aguayo was identified as Eva’s killer in 2002 through a DNA match. He was convicted of killing Chu and her unborn baby in 2006, and sentenced to death.
Anthony Cain killed Lamar and Ernestine Matthews, both 75-years-old, during a burglary in their Cerritos home in 2004. Lamar Matthews was a retired probation officer and Ernestine Matthews was a retired teacher. Both were brutally slashed to death. Lamar had 26 stab wounds, Ernestine had 9 stab wounds.
Investigators arrested Cain after evidence came to light that he had cashed a check belonging to the victims. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010.