Even if you’re a supporter of the so-called “empty the jails” movement, I would hope that this case is a bridge too far even for you. Out in Yolo County, California, just west of Sacramento, there’s a new resident strolling around town, but not one that many people wanted to see in their neighborhood. Terebea Williams was one of a number of inmates who have recently been sprung from behind bars, presumably because of the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak at the prison. But Ms. Williams was no run-of-the-mill scofflaw or drug dealer. She was convicted of one of the more grusome murders seen in that part of the country in a very long time and had been serving a sentence of 84 years to life for it. As of the date of her release she had served less than a quarter of her time. Needless to say, the family of her victim is beside themselves. (CBS Sacramento)
A convicted killer has been set free as the state tries to reduce the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, and now the family of the victim is furious.
Convicted murderer, Terebea Williams, was sentenced to 84 years-to-life in prison but served less than a quarter of that sentence.
Williams, 44, was convicted in 2001 of first-degree murder, use of a firearm, carjacking, and kidnapping in the death of 23-year-old Kevin “John” Ruska Jr. Confused and angry, Ruska’s sister Dena Love is now wanting justice all over again for her little brother.
The story behind the 1998 murder of Kevin Ruska Jr. was as bizarre as it was horrifying. Williams carjacked Ruska, but rather than leaving him on the street she forced him into the trunk of his vehicle. She then proceeded to shoot him in the abdomen, though it wasn’t an immediately fatal wound. She then drove more than 750 miles with Ruska bleeding in the trunk. Upon arriving at her destination, she rented a motel room and tied him in a chair inside and left, claiming that he should be able to either signal for help or free himself. Ruska was found dead in the room, still bound to the chair after suffering for more than ten hours.
And here’s the strangest thing about the entire crime. At no point did prosecutors (or the family) learn why Williams did this. She never offered a reason and there was no connection between the killer and her victim discovered. It seemed to be a completely random carjacking where Williams could have either left Ruska on the side of the road or just killed him outright. Instead, she made him suffer horrifically without having any apparent motive to do so.
Ruska’s sister, Dena Love, wasn’t contacted by authorities prior to Williams’ release and no reason was offered by the prison system. When CBS News asked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for an explanation, they were pointed to a recent policy statement saying that their goal is “to maximize space in prison in an effort to manage the spread of COVID-19.”
But even if that’s a goal you might find reasonable, surely there is a way to prioritize who is or isn’t being released based on the severity of their crimes and the length of their sentences, isn’t there? How did Terebea Williams make it anywhere near the top of that list? And not to sound like too much of a jerk here, but would it really have been all that much of a loss to society if Williams had wound up contracting the virus? She’s not even old enough to be in one of the highest-risk groups.
The CDCR’s track record on this “empty the jails” effort isn’t without other serious blemishes. Just this week, they also opened the gates for Santiago Cruz, a killer who was serving a 125 year to life sentence. Granted, Cruz was “only” convicted of arson and attempted rape and murder, not actually killing anyone. And he went down on a “three strikes” rule, so perhaps he wasn’t nearly as deserving of doing his full stretch as Williams, but it still sets a terrible example.