- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2020

A California woman who was convicted of murder in 2001 and sentenced to 84 years-to-life in prison is now walking free due to an early release over COVID-19 concerns.

Terebea 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., CBS 13 reported.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement Friday that Williams was released Wednesday in Yolo County in the name of public health.

“In an effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic, CDCR has implemented emergency measures to protect all those who live and work in our state prisons, and the community at-large, in a way that aligns public health and public safety,” the statement read, FOX 40 reported.

“Terebea Williams was released from CDCR custody on July 29 under Government Code section 8658 regulations, which allows the release of an incarcerated person in the case of an emergency that endangers their life,” the statement added. “Prior to the release of an offender, CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services makes notification to registered victims and provides referrals to community-based mental health and wellness resources.”

The victim’s sister, Dena Love, said she is “sad and angry” over the decision.

“I can’t understand why this is happening at all,” she told CBS 13. “I always felt responsible for him, I’m the older sister.”

It’s the second such release reported by CBS 13 in the past week.

On Friday, the outlet reported the release of 65-year-old Santiago Cruz, who was serving a 125-year-to-life sentence after he was convicted for armed robbery and for throwing a Molotov cocktail into his ex-wife’s home while she was sleeping.

“I mean, he threatened people’s lives. He terrorized us. My kids were afraid of him. They’re still afraid of him. They’re afraid for me,” his ex-wife, Theresa Esparza, told CBS 13. “Now I have to watch my back. Now I have to live in prison because now he’s not.”

Both families are now speaking out because they say they weren’t told about the releases, as is required by law under normal circumstances. But according to CBS 13, there’s a loophole in the California penal code that says it’s a victim’s right to object to an inmate’s release except during “any emergency” that would endanger the lives of inmates.

“Our biggest complaint or concern is that there is a lack of transparency and worse than that, the victims have been completely excluded from this process,” said Melinda Aiello, Deputy District Attorney in Yolo County.

The California District Attorney’s Office met with CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz on Thursday in an effort to find a more balanced approach to the inmate releases, CBS 13 reported.

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