Jurors completed their first full day of deliberation Friday without a verdict on whether a former Pizza Hut delivery driver accused of killing a gay co-worker because of the victim’s sexual orientation is mentally competent to stand trial.
Testimony concluded Thursday in the mental competency hearing for Miguel Angel Bautista Ramirez, 30, who faces a charge of first-degree murder stemming from the July 13, 2014, shotgun death of 20-year-old Juan Ceballos in Mecca.
Ramirez’s defense attorney had previously declared doubt to the defendant’s competency to stand trial, and criminal proceedings were suspended. The court assigned two doctors to meet with Ramirez and report back on his mental state; both came back with different findings, according to Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall.
The defense and prosecutors asked for a jury trial to determine Ramirez’s competency, Hall said. That trial began on Wednesday.
Dr. Joy Smith Clark testified she had twice examined Ramirez and found him mentally incapable of assisting his defense attorney. Her most recent examination was in May.
Dr. Robert Suiter testified Ramirez admitted to having a past prescription for an anti-psychotic drug, but he ultimately found him capable of understanding his trial proceedings. His last meeting with Ramirez was in October 2017.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Johnetta Anderson dismissed jurors to begin deliberation Thursday afternoon. Jurors continued deliberating all day Friday before finishing the day without a verdict, according to Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall. The jury is expected to return to continue deliberations on Monday.
Should jurors find Ramirez fit to stand trial, he faces life without the possibility of parole due to a special circumstance allegation of committing a murder that is a hate crime. Another special circumstance allegation of committing an intentional murder made him eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors opted not to pursue capital punishment in 2016.
Doubt regarding Ramirez’s mental competency also led Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini to suspend criminal proceedings in November 2016. Criminal proceedings have started and stopped since then.
During the defendant’s 2015 preliminary hearing, a Pizza Hut manager testified that Ramirez seemed obsessed with the question of whether Ceballos was gay. The witness said the defendant often used slurs to refer to the victim and that the two delivery drivers were once caught in a dishwashing area of the restaurant squaring off, Ramirez brandishing a small pocket knife and Ceballos an electronic stun gun.
Ceballos was described as a private person who rarely discussed his sexual orientation.
“Anyone who talked to Juan knew that he was (gay),” Liana Pena, who supervised the two men, testified.
On the night of the shooting, Ceballos left work and stopped at a gas station sometime after 11:30 p.m., Riverside County sheriff’s investigator Nelson Gomez testified. Surveillance video shows a gold-colored pickup appearing to follow the victim’s silver sedan to the gas station then turn off its headlights. When Ceballos leaves the business, the gold pickup appears to follow, Gomez said.
At the time of the killing, Ramirez drove a gold Toyota Tacoma truck, according to authorities.
As Ceballos arrived at his home in the 65000 block of Dale Kiler Road, he sent a text message to his 17-year-old brother that read “come,” Gomez testified.
Moments later, the brother went to the window and saw Ceballos in the drivers’ seat of his car, as a suspect described as a stocky Hispanic man with a light complexion and dark clothing walked up, pointed a shotgun into the driver compartment and fired, Gomez said.
The gunman racked the shotgun and fired again, the witness told investigators.
A search of the suspect’s home turned up a receipt for a shotgun pistol-grip, which Ramirez had allegedly purchased online in the weeks before the killing, Gomez said.
The murder weapon has not been found.
Ramirez was arrested in Coachella 15 days after the shooting.
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