Outside the Clay Manor apartments, just a short walk to Salinas City Hall and police headquarters, a sidewalk memorial grows. There are stuffed animals and a dozen or so floral bouquets, some in vases and others lying on the grass. Before the rain came, before the Thanksgiving holiday, light from a few tall veladoras – prayer candles – flickered in the breeze.
The memorial represents the collective grief of many over the Nov. 19 killing of Mariana Jurado, who was walking to her car that morning to go to work when she was set upon by a stranger and stabbed in what police have called a random act of violence. She lived long enough to describe her attacker to police; they arrested Garrett Scheff, a 43-year-old homeless man with a lengthy and complicated criminal history, about a block away from the scene. Jurado, 26, was two months pregnant at the time of her death.
A few days after the killing, I received a message asking me, “Why is not the whole city outraged by the violent murder of this young woman killed this week in South Salinas?”
Before you get to the outrage phase, you have to get through the initial shock of what happened. A young married mother-to-be who had everything to look forward to and not an enemy in the world was killed outside her home on her way to work, allegedly by a random stranger. By its nature, it’s shocking.
Scheff has been charged with with two counts of murder, one for Jurado and another for her unborn child, although he has yet to enter a plea to the charges despite two appearances in court. Jurado’s husband, accompanied by a large group of friends and family members, have come to both hearings. They have declined to speak to reporters.
I live just a few blocks from where Jurado was attacked and if you’re an Oldtown resident or business owner, you get to recognize at least some of the homeless people who regularly walk the streets. I hadn’t seen Scheff before, but Salinas Police Det. Byron Gansen says Scheff “walked past my desk every day with all the transient types going to the Methodist church” for meals and other services. That was true for a time, says First United Methodist Church Pastor Steve Lundin, who says Scheff used to come in for lunch almost daily. But, Lundin says, he hadn’t seen him at the church facility in nearly two years.
“He was very much a loner and very much kept to himself,” Lundin says. “He never struck me as dangerous at all.”
Scheff’s story as told in court records doesn’t reveal a history of violence. There are a number of felonies dating back to 1995, most of them theft related; Scheff apparently stole to support his coke and heroin habit, Gansen says. There’s also a history of mental illness laid out in those records – in 2015, after Scheff pleaded no contest to defacing public property, he was transferred to the State Hospital in Atascadero, where he spent 182 days out of a total 364-day sentence.
After Jurado’s killing, Oldtown property owner Catherine Kobrinsky, clearly frustrated and angry, sent out a call to arms via Facebook urging Oldtown business owners and employees to contact their elected officials and other leaders.
“I would hope our leaders would be receiving calls. Let’s have a meeting and talk about how we ensure the safety of everyone who comes here,” she says. “We are down here trying to build community that’s good for everyone, but at the same time, the police department says it doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with certain crimes and we also have a proliferation of services here for the homeless that aren’t necessarily helping.”
Because the prosecution has alleged Scheff committed multiple murders, it’s possible he could face the death penalty, even though Gov. Gavin Newsom in March put an executive moratorium on the death penalty, effectively suspending further executions for as long as he’s governor.
Scheff is due to appear in court again on Dec. 17. Mariana Jurado’s funeral took place on Nov. 25. On her obituary page, one man commented her death has inspired him to act to “clean up our town.”
But first, he writes, he has to grieve with the rest of all people of good will.
MARY DUAN writes Local Spin for Monterey County Weekly. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan