Elizabeth Ann Vuori lived on one of my favorite streets in Contra Costa County. This is Moraga Boulevard near downtown Lafayette. It is lined with charming old bungalows and cottages from Lafayette’s early days as a booming suburb.
In the fall, the trees lining this residential street blaze with yellow, orange and burgundy. Those leaves fall to the streets and sidewalks as winter closes in but their dry remnants chatter and scatter when a cold breeze blows them.
Some of the bungalows and cottages on Moraga Boulevard have been renovated and modernized, but they still maintain a sense of low-key grace–perhaps like Elizabeth Ann Vuori.
It was in December 2005 that a traveling magazine salesman named Richard Craig McNew, 35, paid a fateful visit to Vuori–in the home she diligently saved for in her work as a stenographer and purchased 40 years ago, according to a report in today’s Contra Costa Times.
McNew, a Missouri resident, had been working in Vuori’s neighborhood for Overachievers, a Missouri-based magazine subscription company, the Times said.
Vuori was found bound, gagged, and smothered to death in her bed on December 10, 2005. She had been raped, and her keys, $18,000 in savings bonds, and $200 in cash had been stolen from the home.
McNew pleaded guilty to murder, robbery, burglary, forced sexual penetration, and special allegations that would have made him eligible for the death penalty, the Times said. But he avoided lethal injection by agreeing to plead guilty to the charges.
As her nephew, Alan Phillips, explains, Vuori would have perhaps opposed the death penalty, even for the man who tormented and killed her. Her relatives say she was a member of the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center. In this organizaton, she passionately campaigned for social justice, including opposition to the death penalty.
As described by the Times, McNew’s sentencing hearing was both heartbreaking and cathartic.
Phillips described Vuori as a “really kind and warm, generous human being.” The Times article also said:
McNew, who identified himself as a Christian, listened to Vuori’s relatives with his head held down and his hands clasped as if he was praying. He occasionally looked at his mother, who cried silently in the back of the courtroom.
When given the opportunity to speak, McNew apologized to Vuori’s family and said that Vuori was alive when he left her home.
“I did not intend to kill her or anyone else in my life,” McNew said. “I’m very sorry.”