A Schenectady woman who has worked tirelessly to help families of those murdered has now found some relief for herself and her family.
Pat Gioia recently learned Ralph International Thomas, the man convicted of killing her daughter, Niskayuna native Mary Regina Gioia, nearly 30 years ago in California, died in prison.
Pat Gioia said the news brings “a sense of extreme relief.”
“You don’t wish bad on anyone, but this guy, he was not … he was not a good guy,” Gioia said, noting he also killed Mary’s friend, Greg Kniffen, and had a history of violence, “so I think the world is better off without him.”
Mary Gioia, 22, and Kniffen were killed Aug. 16, 1985 in Berkeley, Calif. Gioia was spending the summer in California, traveling and looking for work.
The two, fans of The Grateful Dead, had stayed with fellow fans in a homeless encampment on the shores of San Francisco Bay, planning to attend a show that weekend. In the early hours of Aug. 16, they were beaten and shot at point-blank range. Their bodies were later found in the bay.
Thomas was arrested shortly after the killings. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to die. Appeals of his conviction continued for years, and in 2012, Thomas won a new trial. By then, though, his health was failing, and he didn’t live long enough for that new trial. He remained in custody until his death in late January at age 59.
Out of that tragedy, Gioia made it her mission to help others through their own tragedies. She has been a part of the support group Parents of Murdered Children since shortly after her daughter’s death. She has long led the local chapter, which provides a support network for parents and other survivors of homicide victims.
In 2006, she wrote a book, “The Berkeley Marina Murders: One Family’s Story.” Self-published and available on the Internet, the book has a red rose on the cover, the family’s symbol for Mary, one of Gioia’s eight children. The family now includes 15 grandchildren.
Pat Gioia, who recently turned 84, said she shared the news of Thomas’ death with other support group members.
“Everybody that’s heard my story, read my book, done all of that, I think they realize that there can be nothing but a feeling of relief on our part,” she said.
Gioia said she’s grateful for the work California prosecutors did on the case, including both the original prosecutor, Jim Anderson, and the man who handled the constant appeals, Assistant Attorney General Gerald Engler.
Along with the constant appeals and the final order for a new trial was the worry of how that new trial would proceed, Gioia said. Many of the witnesses at the first trial were drifters and hard enough to track down then.
The reason cited in the successful 2012 appeal was that other witnesses might have pointed to someone else as the killer and Thomas’ defense didn’t contact them then, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Now, that’s all over.
“This is a way, I feel, God took care of it,” Gioia said.
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