Chanting “justice for the victims,” about two dozen people marched in front of the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, demanding change in the state policy that allows "low-level" parolees to be out in society without supervision. “I’m hoping people realize that this is happening,” said Fred Escobar, whose 27-year-old daughter Erica Escobar was killed, allegedly at the hands of an ex-convict who had been released on non-revocable parole status.
On May 3, Erica Escobar and 89-year-old Lucien Bergez were found dead in Bergez's Culver City home. A 31-year-old transient named Zackariah Lehnen was arrested two days later and charged with two counts of murder.
Lehnen is accused of fatally stabbing and beating Bergez and Escobar. The young woman’s father believes that if Lehnen had remained locked up, his daughter would still be alive. “He shouldn’t have even been released. He had assault with a deadly weapon. If that’s a low-risk criminal, we’re pretty much nuts.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation measure—officially known as “non-revocable parole status”—was implemented in January 2010. Critics view the policy as a dangerous cost-saving measure. “This is a big problem,” said retired state parole agent Caroline Aguirre, who was carrying a sign and marching with the protesters Friday.
Another protester insisted that Escobar’s death could have easily been prevented. “She’s a victim of the system. This person had a history of violence and they let him out early,” said Carlos Tapia of Santa Monica, who was Escobar’s godfather.
Tapia and the other protesters said they want the non-revocable parole policy changed or at the very least they believe corrections officials should issue a “reclassification of the low-risk status.”
As Tapia spoke, another protester walked by carrying a sign bearing pictures of Bergez, Escobar and Chere Osmanhodzic.
Osmanhodzic, 34, a Valley Village resident, was killed July 24, 2010, after returning home from shopping for a wedding dress with her mother.
The bride-to-be was stabbed to death and her home set on fire during a botched robbery. DNA evidence linked parolee Omar Loera to the crime. He was taken into custody several months later in Mexicali, Mexico, and brought back to California.
In June, Loera, 34, pleaded guilty to murder in a Van Nuys courtroom. When the slaying happened, he was on parole after serving time for robbery.
Erica Escobar’s father insists Osmanhodzic’s death and the other killings did not have to happen. “They’re letting these guys out because they say they have to be under horrible conditions like sharing toilets and things like that. … They’re in there for a reason. They did a crime," said an emotional Fred Escobar.
While Culver City police have not revealed a motive in the May killings, Escobar’s relatives believe the young woman and the elderly victim knew each other from their neighborhood Starbucks. They also believe that’s where the two victims met their accused killer.