A judge set bail at $2 million Monday for Russell Jones of Modesto, who is charged with murdering 36-year-old Dena Raley-McCluskey eight years ago.
Her stepmother, Donna Raley, said after Monday's arraignment that she had seen Jones with Raley-McCluskey only days before she vanished. She had rented a room from Jones but they were not romantically involved, said Raley, who raised Raley-McCluskey.
"(Jones) had been to my house with Dena," Raley said.
Raley and her husband, the victim's father, who died last year, told The Sacramento Bee four years ago that they believed Raley-McCluskey's boyfriend was involved in her disappearance. The boyfriend, Mark Keough, reported her missing Oct. 10, 1999, and now is an inmate at California Correctional Center near Susanville, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
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Keough, Jones and Raley-McCluskey were friends when she disappeared, Raley said.
Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy refused to say how cold case detectives linked Jones to Raley-McCluskey's disappearance, which had baffled her family and police since October 1999.
Modesto police last week unearthed human remains in a shallow grave on property near Groveland owned by Jones' parents. Investigators say they are confident the remains are those of Raley-McCluskey.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff on Monday appointed a public defender to represent Jones. He is expected to enter a plea Nov. 21, when Zeff will revisit the bail amount.
Raley-McCluskey's mother and stepmother said Monday they were satisfied that Jones, 47, a disabled mechanic who has no job and does not own a home, will remain behind bars until trial. Jones told the judge he could not afford an attorney.
Raley was surrounded Monday by supporters, including Susan Levy, mother of Chandra Levy, the former federal prisons intern from Modesto whose body was recovered from a Washington, D.C., park more than a year after she disappeared in 2001. Raley and Levy that year founded Wings of Protection, a support group for people with missing loved ones.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, sent a representative to the arraignment in support of Raley.
Raley-McCluskey's mother, Barbara West, and sister, Sonja Raley-Johnson, also attended Monday's proceedings with a separate group of supporters.
"I've been in the shadows for eight years," West said.
She said she met Jones at a wedding and spoke with him once on the telephone. "I thought he was kind of good- looking," West said, "but Dena said, 'No, no.' "
Standing in a courthouse hallway, Raley glanced up at Lady Justice, a statue of a Roman goddess holding scales and a sword, with the inscription: "And justice for all."
"They need to put a line through 'all' and say, 'Justice for some,' " she said. "We lost Dena."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.