The mother and brother of a Sonora woman murdered in 2002 have asked the state parole agency to block the murderer’s return to Tuolumne County when he is released from prison in December.
Their efforts have been supported by the local victim-witness office, the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office and the Tuolumne County Probation Office.
But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Adult Parole Operations has denied the request.
“Basically, he can go shop at the same store as my mom after killing her daughter,” said Jason Coons, whose sister, Jennifer, was 21 when she was shot in the heart by Kristopher Lee McDaniel during an argument.
McDaniel pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and manufacturing methamphetamine in September 2003 and was sentenced to 16 years and four months in prison. Now 45, McDaniel has served more than 14 years in state prison and was eligible for parole after serving 13 years.
McDaniel is incarcerated in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga and is scheduled to be paroled to the Jamestown area on Dec. 30.
Jason Coons, now 34, was 18 when he met McDaniel in the Tuolumne County Jail. He shared photos of his family, including his sister, to his cellmate known for the swastika tattooed on the back of his head.
“We became close. I hate even saying that,” Coons said.
Jennifer Coons and McDaniel were in a remote rental house and methamphetamine laboratory in the Big Hill area of Columbia on Dec. 1, 2002. In the midst of an argument, McDaniel shot her with a .22 caliber weapon, according to Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office documents submitted in court.
Jerry Christopher Coey, who was believed to be in a shed on the Big Hill property manufacturing methamphetamine when the shooting occurred, drove her to Tuolumne General Hospital. She was pronounced dead a short time later.
McDaniels was a fugitive for more than two weeks before being found in a Standard area apartment hiding under a pile of dirty laundry with a gun.
McDaniel had originally been charged with murder, manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, possession of stolen property and possession of a firearm while a felon, which would have carried a sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
A Union Democrat article from Sept. 3, 2003, reported that McDaniel wept during his sentencing, saying to Jennifer’s father “‘this was an accident, it truly wasn’t intentional. I am, I am, I am, I am truly sorry.’”
Jason Coons and his mother, Marsha Coons, 58, said they have dealt with a litany of personal struggles and abuses in the years since Jennifer died.
Marsha Coons said she is two years clean after struggling with alcoholism and homelessness, while Jason Coons said he has been clean for more than three years and is now working underground construction after multiple spates of incarceration and homelessness.
“It’s mind boggling to me where I’m at today,” he said. His mother said after Jennifer’s death she “didn’t care about anything.”
“I get up every day and try to make the best of it. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,” she said. “It just rips your heart out. You can’t replace your daughter.”
They believe their sobriety is endangered by the return of McDaniel.
“I finally have my life together. I’ve never really dealt with my sister’s death. And it has eventually affected me in every other way,” Jason Coons said.
The Coons were notified via mail 90 days before McDaniel’s scheduled release that he would be paroled to Jamestown. Since then, they have reached out to Pleasant Valley State Prison, state parole offices and Tuolumne County Probation to bar his return to the area.
Tuolumne County Victim Witness Supervisor Ginger Martin said her office prepared an application to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Adult Parole Operations to block McDaniel from being released within 35 miles of the Coons.
That application was denied, she said, and despite leaving multiple messages with the state parole offices, she has not received a call with an explanation why.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg acknowledged that it was within the discretion of state parole to ultimately decide where McDaniel will locate, but she planned to call their offices personally to seek an explanation and to record her opposition.
CDCR Adult Parole Operations Chief Deputy Regional Administrator Dave Nichols and McDaniel’s parole officer Jeff Robinson, of the Modesto Parole Unit, which covers the Tuolumne County area, could not be reached for comment.
Modesto Parole Unit Acting Supervisor Todd Shafer declined to comment pending a response from Nichols, who he identified as the Adult Northern Region Public Information Officer.
According to state parole requirements, a parolee is to be returned to the county that was the last legal residence prior to incarceration, but the code allows an exemption if the safety of a victim, the parolee, a witness, or any other person is jeopardized.
Krieg identified a 2012 Appellate Court ruling that the “anguish of a victim’s family” did not satisfy a parole condition “to protect the life, safety, or well-being of a victim.”
Though she was still waiting for a response from state parole, she said, McDaniel was likely not required to be paroled to another county because the Coons were not “direct victims or direct witness to the violent felony.”
“Years ago they gave my mom comfort and said he’s not going to come around her anymore,” Jason Coons said. “He can go wherever he wants because they denied my mom’s request to be protected.”
Marsha Coons said she doesn’t believe the denial was fair.
“They say I’m not an immediate victim, but I am a victim,” she said.
Jason Coons said he had no choice but to leave Tuolumne County. He said he lived in fear of what “he might do to me and what I might do to him.”
The last time Jason Coons saw McDaniel was in California State Prison, Solano, and there was a stay away order imposed.
By Christmas, Jason Coons said he will be in Idaho with his children.
“I have to go. I don’t want to, but I know what’s best,” he said. “I miss my sister and it’s just now getting real to me that this guy that shot her in the heart now wants to get out and live his life to the fullest. It’s not right.”
Marsha Coons, now retired and on Social Security, has decided to stay in Sonora, despite her son’s persistent pleas to go with him.
She said the memory of Jennifer’s blessings, despite her own struggles with drug use and her association with McDaniel, would give her the strength to live without fear.
“She was bright and bubbly every time she walked into a room. She was beautiful. She always made the best of a bad moment,” the mother said. “She was so young and so many people loved her, but to have it end up this way, it’s very disturbing.”