More than 40 years after James and Essie Effron were bludgeoned to death in their popular San Diego clothing store, their two children are angered that they will once again have to fight the release of their parents’ killer, less than two years after he was last denied parole.
Sentenced to life in prison the year before California reinstated the death penalty, Jose Gonzalez, now 63, has spent nearly 41 years in state prison for the murders.
The parole board found Gonzalez eligible for release in 2015, a decision that was overturned by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. At his last parole hearing, on July 5, 2017, Gonzalez was denied parole, a decision that was expected to stand for at least three years.
Instead, the parole board has scheduled an administrative review of Gonzalez’s parole status for Feb. 27, state records show, effectively moving up his parole hearing by nearly a year and a half. The brother and sister plan to appear in front of the panel.
Cheryl Effron, an Orange County dermatologist, and her brother, Gary Effron, a Palos Verdes Peninsula attorney, have collected more than 2,600 signatures opposing the release of their parents’ killer through a change.org petition. The two say there is no doubt that if Gonzalez is released he would kill again.
“It’s never over,” Cheryl Effron said. “And this is probably the cruelest part of it all. No decision is ever final on our behalf. We are always living in constant fear. We have to relive this story over and over again.”
An attorney representing Gonzalez could not be reached for comment. But in 2015, Gonzalez’s attorney noted that his client was remorseful and had the right to be released under state law.
James and Essie Effron owned a clothing store in downtown San Diego, which they decided to close to retire after Essie was diagnosed with colon cancer. The couple hired Gonzalez to help with a going-out-of-business sale but fired him after he apparently was rude to customers.
Motivated by what authorities believe to be partly robbery and partly revenge, Gonzalez and two accomplices forced the Effrons’ into the basement of their store, tied them down with neck ties and bashed their heads with metal pipes. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute the other two.
Gonzalez was convicted of first-degree murder in 1978. But the crime fell within the legal window of the California Supreme Court overturning the death penalty in 1977 and state lawmakers reinstating capital punishment the following year. As a result, Gonzalez couldn’t receive the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.
The California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008 – commonly known as Marsy’s Law – calls for parole hearings to be set at least three years apart, which advocates say is meant to avoid making victims constantly re-live the crimes. But Gary Effron noted that the law does give the parole board the discretion to move up a hearing if there was “a change in circumstances or new information.”
Both Gary and Cheryl Effron said they have not been told what, if any, new information has been brought to the parole board. State officials did not return a reporter’s message.
Based on the planning and violence that went into their parents’ murders, Gary and Cheryl Effron said they do not believe that Gonzalez has changed. Cheryl recalled one previous parole board hearing where she believed Gonzalez “looked at me like he was going to kill me.”
“He hated women, and he was enraged by them,” Cheryl Effron said. “How can that character flaw change?”
Last year, the parole board’s plan to move up the hearing of a man convicted of the 1982 murder of Scott Campbell, son of former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Collene Campbell, led the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filing a lawsuit against the state board. A judge ordered the parole hearing delayed.
If the parole board decides to approve Gonzalez’s release, Gov. Gavin Newsom would be tasked with deciding whether to overturn the decision.