Perhaps the waiting game is finally over. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will allow convicted killer Wesley Shermantine Jr. to help authorities search for the remains of his long-dead victims, Brown's office announced Tuesday.
The governor signed A.B. 2357, authored by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, which gives California's corrections secretary the authority to take serial killer Shermantine off death row and transport him to sites believed to hold the remains of his and Loren Herzog's victims.
Galgiani said she was pleased but more relieved that Brown had signed her bill, stating that it was an important step to determine "once and for all" where the remains of Shermantine and Herzog's victims lay.
She said concern for public safety should be limited, as Shermantine, when transferred, will be under heavy guard. He will also be in handcuffs and shackles, Galgiani added.
"This has been an emotional roller coaster for several months now for families in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties," she said. "It is a torturous process, waiting and wondering."
Les Garcia, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office, said the bill authored by Galgiani was similar to a letter sent to corrections secretary Mattew Cate on Feb. 2 from San Joaquin County District Attorney James Willet, San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore and Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz.
The letter requested that, if necessary, the chief of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Office of Corrections Safety would allow Shermantine to be transported to the area to assist with conducting searches.
"Now that the bill has been signed, we welcome any success in the recovery of victims who may have fallen prey to Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog," Garcia said.
Shermantine and Herzog became infamous for their drug-induced killing spree that spanned nearly two decades from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s.
Herzog hanged himself in his trailer on the grounds of High Desert State Prison in Susanville earlier this year after learning that Shermantine provided crude maps that would later help lead authorities to the remains of four of their victims.
Shermantine is currently awaiting execution in San Quentin prison for four murders.
The tightly drafted bill makes it clear that Cate has the authority to temporarily release Shermantine from death row to help find evidence and victims' remains under heavy guard. The bill withdraws that authority on Jan. 1, 2013.
Lawmakers say there could be dozens of other victims, though the exact number is unknown.
Galgiani became interested in the case in part because her cousin, Dena McHan, disappeared 31 years ago. Galgiani wonders if her cousin, who was 19 when she disappeared, could have been one of Shermantine and Herzog's earliest victims.
Earlier this year, authorities found parts of four sets of remains, two of which were identified as teenage girls who disappeared more than 25 years ago.
Authorities identified remains of Cyndi Vanderheiden, 25, who disappeared in 1998, and Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler, 16, who disappeared in 1985, when they were discovered on a remote Calaveras County property once owned by Shermantine's family during a search.
Shermantine was arrested in 1999 after his car was repossessed and investigators found Vanderheiden's blood in the trunk. He was convicted of both murders in 2001. He also was convicted of robbing and killing two drifters near Stockton.
Herzog's three murder convictions and 78 years-to-life prison sentence were overturned by an appeals court, which ruled his confession was illegally coerced.
He later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Vanderheiden's death and was paroled in 2010.
Two months from today, Herzog would have been a free man. His parole would have ended Sept. 18 and he could have returned to live in San Joaquin County.
Shermantine blames Herzog for the killing spree, while Herzog maintained Shermantine was responsible for the deaths.
The State Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill earlier this month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.