SoCal family fights to keep their parents' killer in prison

ByMarc Brown and Lisa Bartley via KABC logo
Saturday, June 5, 2021
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The convicted killer who brutally murdered a San Diego couple 43 years ago has been granted parole and could soon be free. Now the couple's adult children are begging Gov. Gavin Newsom to block the killer's release.

SAN DIEGO (KABC) -- The convicted killer who brutally murdered a San Diego couple 43 years ago has been granted parole and could soon be free. The couple's adult children, who live in L.A. and Orange County, are begging Gov. Gavin Newsom to block the killer's release.

"We have to speak for the dead," says daughter Dr. Cheryl Effron. "They can't speak for themselves, that's why we're here."

Effron remembers standing in the dried blood of her parents on the floor of their San Diego clothing store after they - James and Essie Effron - were tied up with neckties and bludgeoned to death with metal pipes back in 1977.

"It was horrendous and that stays with you," she says. "That visual that I saw has stayed with me to this day."

Jose Gonzalez, a former temporary employee at the Effron's store, was tried and convicted of two counts of first-degree murder.

"One of the great sources of sadness for us is the fact that they didn't get to see our children and grandchildren grow up," says the couple's son Gary Effron.

Eyewitness News has been following the Effron's story since 2015, the first time the couple's killer was granted parole. But then-Gov. Jerry Brown blocked the parole board's decision months later, calling the crime "chilling and unconscionable," and finding that Gonzalez continued to pose a danger to society if released.

In 1977, James and Essie Effron had decided to retire and shut down their clothing store. Essie was fighting cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Essie told her daughter Cheryl that she had fired Gonzalez for being rude to a customer.

Right after the murders, Gonzalez partied in Tijuana, got married for a second time and pawned Essie's jewelry at a pawn shop in Los Angeles.

To this day, Gonzalez maintains that he did not kill Essie - that it was an accomplice. At his latest parole hearing in April, the deputy district attorney noted that Gonzalez still considers himself a victim in life.

Gonzalez, now 65, did apologize to the Effron family at the parole board hearing in April. He admits to killing James Effron, but says an accomplice forced him to at gunpoint.

It was the 15th parole hearing that Gary, his wife Shari and Cheryl have attended in their efforts to keep Gonzalez behind bars.

"It's pretty much taken over my life," says Gary. "These hearings for Gonzalez have been coming up every year and a half, every two years."

"It is an exhausting process to keep going through this year after year after year," says Cheryl.

It's now up to Newsom to either uphold, reverse or modify the parole board's decision.

The Effrons have gathered 5,400 signatures on a petition and are asking people to join them in writing Newsom, urging him to block the killer's release.

In her own letter to Newsom, Cheryl wrote that she fears for her own safety if Gonzalez is released. The pain, she says, never goes away.

"It is like a rape in a lot of ways," says Cheryl. "Your mind, your soul, your safety, your heart has been torn apart."

Got a tip? Email ABC7 Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com