Ski Mask Rapist Serving 400 Years Up for Early Parole Hearing
Victims of the notorious “Ski Mask Rapist” thought they could close the book on him after he was sentenced to more than 400 years in prison for ambushing and raping 25 women in the Bay Area during the 1980s.
George Anthony Sanchez, 58, who was convicted of 25 rapes in the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, is set for a parole hearing Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, under the state’s Elderly Parole Program. Sanchez was sentenced to 406 years to life in prison in 1989. (California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
But on Wednesday their nightmare will be revived when a parole board conducts a hearing to determine whether the rapist, George Anthony Sanchez, should be released. Under a law passed two years ago, certain inmates who have spent decades in prison and have gotten so old and infirm they are deemed no longer dangerous can be considered for parole.
Sanchez, now 58 years old, is on the youngest end of the Elderly Parole Program’s prescribed age range. His victims believe he is still young enough to carry on the savagery that led to his 1989 conviction in Santa Clara County on 117 felony counts.
Prison reform advocates say they understand those fears but argue that a parole hearing isn’t tantamount to automatic release and point out a large majority of offenders evaluated under the law have had parole denied.
That’s of little comfort to Lisa, who said she was raped by Sanchez in February 1987 on her 31st birthday when he entered her Northern California home wearing a ski mask and holding a gun, then assaulted her “for quite a while.” The weapon was later shown in court to have been a replica pellet gun as heavy as a .45 caliber pistol.
“George Sanchez does not deserve to be considered under this law. Some people do, but not him,” said Lisa, who asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons. “I thought he had no chance at parole. I will do anything in this world to keep that from happening. I’ll go to every parole hearing. I will do whatever it takes to keep him in prison.”
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Steven Dick said he is not looking to debate the merits of the elderly parole law and is focused on the breadth and severity of Sanchez’s crimes, which included victims ages 16 to 83. Among them were a woman he raped as her 17-year-old daughter lay next to them in bed frozen with fear, an 83-year-old woman volunteering at a Saratoga church, a woman who was five months pregnant, and a woman with cervical cancer who testified she begged Sanchez to stop his attack because of the excruciating pain of her condition.
“There are some people who have committed such heinous and horrendous acts that justice demands that they serve the sentence that they were given,” Dick said. “That is what is fair and right and just for the victims, and for society and the community.”
Another victim, Carla, can clearly recall the Sunday morning in October 1987 when she was raped by Sanchez. She said she had gone into her San Jose elementary school classroom early to prepare for the coming school week when the intruder entered.
“He told me to lay down on the ground and he put something over my head, he pointed a gun at my head, and said ‘You’re going to do what I say,’ ” she said. “He cut the strap off my purse, then he choked me. I was totally afraid, I thought he was going to take care of me forever.”
A San Jose police-led investigation into the Ski Mask Rapist attacks ended with Sanchez’s arrest in December 1987. His attacks were determined to have begun at least as far back as 1984, and prosecutors contend there could have been many more given the historical under-reporting of rape and other sexual assault crimes. Sanchez is currently being held at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, Monterey County.
While it formally became law in 2017, the Elderly Parole Program has been in place with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2014 as part of a host of measures, including prison realignment, crafted to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order to decrease prison overcrowding. Offenders who have spent at least 25 years in continual incarceration and have reached age 60 are eligible for a parole hearing under the policy; those serving life-without-parole or death sentences are exempt.
Sanchez is getting his elderly parole review early, at age 58, because of a unique circumstance where, because the majority of his crimes occurred before he turned 26, he was afforded “youthful offender” status by the state, making him eligible for speedier parole consideration.
Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, said the aim of elderly parole review is to spare the state from providing expensive in-custody care for people too frail to pose a danger.
“Many of these elderly people still in custody are not a risk at all. They’re old, often sick. Many of them are in wheelchairs, some of them have dementia,” Specter said. “If they do stay in prison, taxpayers will have to provide what is usually very expensive medical care.”
Specter added that Sanchez “is not very representative” of the target population of the Elderly Parole Program, and emphasized that he is simply getting a hearing. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from the start of the program in February 2014 through June 2019, 28% of 3,618 hearings resulted in an inmate being granted parole. The rest were denied or deemed unsuitable.
“It’s far from a done deal,” Specter said.
The situation has forced victims like Lisa and Carla to face their worst fears once again, but both say they are leaning on family and other support that got them through before.
Lisa said she still doesn’t sleep in bedrooms, but intense therapy has helped her repair “30 years of damaged relationships” and be ready to face Sanchez again.
“When I felt most powerful was when I faced him in the courtroom. I looked at him and he looked away first. That was such a victory for me,” Lisa said. “I want to have that again. I want him to know I have power over him now.”
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