A jury on Monday recommended the death penalty for a man who raped and killed a young woman in Garden Grove three decades ago.
It was the second penalty phase trial within a year for Richard Raymond Ramirez, who will be sentenced on Feb. 6. The panel that convicted the 55-year- old defendant of first-degree murder and rape in a May 2013 retrial had deadlocked on what punishment to recommend, splitting 7-5 in favor of a death sentence.
Ramirez was initially convicted in March 1985 of first-degree murder and sex counts, with jurors finding true special circumstance allegations of killing during a rape and sodomy, in the Nov. 21, 1983, killing of 22-year-old Kim Gonzalez.
Ramirez was first sentenced to death in July 1985, but a federal judge overturned the conviction because the jury foreman failed to notify the court that he had applied for a job with the FBI — a position for which he was hired months after the trial.
Jurors in the penalty phase retrial deliberated for about 14 hours before reaching their decision. They hugged the victim’s family after the verdict was announced, some of them tearfully.
“It’s hard to say you’re happy for death, but he deserves to be where he put himself,” said Gonzalez’s sister, Alicia Valdez.
“I was a little shocked,” said another sister, Yvette Mejia. “But we’re satisfied.”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin said when the verdict was announced, “mostly what crossed my mind was how wonderful Kim’s family is, which makes me think how wonderful she was. I was just glad we could bring them justice.”
Before Ramirez killed Gonzalez, he was prosecuted as a juvenile for raping a single mother at knifepoint in her home, although he was 18 at the time of the crime. Ramirez was sent to the California Youth Authority for raping the victim multiple times in her apartment in Merced in October 1977 while her baby slept in the next room.
Ramirez raped the woman three times and sexually assaulted her with a plastic bottle, Yellin said. When he was finished, he went looking in the room where the baby was sleeping for money to steal from the victim, who told him she only had food stamps to take, the prosecutor said.
“She had a decision to make, so she ran, naked, hysterical, calling for help from her neighbors,” reluctantly leaving her baby behind, Yellin told jurors.
Ramirez was caught hours later because the woman recognized him from an encounter a day or two earlier, when he “bummed” a cigarette from her in the apartment complex, Yellin said.
Gonzalez lived in Cerritos but enjoyed going out with her friends in Orange County at places such as Mr. Barry’s in Garden Grove. On the night of her murder, she went there alone and met Ramirez, Yellin said.
The two spent time together dancing, playing pool and kissing until they left together, Yellin said. Her body was found the next morning “in this dirty, filthy walkway,” he said, pointing to a crime-scene photograph.
“She’s nearly naked, bloody and dead,” he said.
The principal evidence against Ramirez in the first trial was a matching fingerprint on a Budweiser bottle left in the alley. Ramirez, in the first trial, testified he did not kill the victim. But in last year’s trial, his guilt was conceded by attorneys who acknowledged that new technology allowed investigators to make a DNA match between the defendant and Gonzalez.
“The story of Richard Ramirez is the story of his affinity for knives and his hatred toward women,” Yellen told jurors in the penalty phase retrial.
Mick Hill of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office told jurors there was no excuse for his client’s crimes.
“He’s spent the past 31 years in a jail cell,” Hill said. “We’re not telling you he deserves to be anywhere else.”
But Hill asked jurors to consider Ramirez’s dysfunctional upbringing at the hands of his alcoholic, combat-scarred father, a Korean War veteran who saw action on the front lines as a “radio man.”
Sonny Ramirez, who died in 1973, would have been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder today, Hill said, telling jurors that his client’s upbringing in a violent household shaped him.
Sonny Ramirez met his son’s mother when she was 15, and by her next birthday she was pregnant, Hill said, telling jurors that the next 15 years of the marriage were “pure hell.”
Jane Ramirez was regularly beaten by her husband, even while she was pregnant, Hill said. After some beatings, Sonny Ramirez would rape his wife, Hill said.
On the weekends, Sonny Ramirez would put his four kids in the car and drive around with a 12-pack of beer in the front seat as he downed one can at a time, according to Hill. He started feeding the defendant and his brother beer when they were 4 years old, and when they were older, he would subject them to “human cockfighting” with other neighborhood children. If they lost, he would beat them for shaming the family, Hill said.
Ramirez dropped out of school in the eighth grade because he could not read, got hooked on heroin at 13 and then started sniffing glue, Hill said.
He has behaved well behind bars, his attorney said. According to a former San Quentin prison warden the defendant, who has kidney disease, has been a “model prisoner,” Hill said.
— City News Service