A 61-year-old woman killed by her son who doused her with gasoline prior to setting her on fire was described by family members and a co-worker Thursday as an affectionate yet stern aunt, a hard worker who supported her colleagues and somebody looking forward to retirement.
Francisca Ramirez of North Shore suffered second- and third-degree burns over more than half her body after her son surprised her at work at the Mathis Brothers furniture store in Indio at about 5:50 a.m. on Jan. 26, 2018, poured gasoline over her head and set her ablaze.
“She saw something in me I didn’t see,” said Adrian Aguilar, her supervisor at the store. “That made me even closer to her.”
Jurors deliberated for about an hour Monday before finding Israel Ramirez Guardado, 38, of Salt Lake City guilty of first-degree murder for killing his mother over what prosecutors framed as a disagreement over the custody of Guardado’s oldest daughter.
In addition to convicting Guardado of murder, jurors found true two special circumstance allegations — lying in wait and inflicting torture during the commission of a murder — which make him eligible for the death penalty.
Jurors on Thursday began hearing victim impact testimony in the lead-up to their decision on whether Guardado will spend the rest of his life behind bars, or receive the death penalty.
Aguilar testified that despite his outward appearance, which includes two sleeves of tattoos, Ramirez welcomed him, and even helped him land a promotion as supervisor of her department.
“She’s a good worker,” he said, “(she was) always there at work.”
Aguilar also testified that the morning she was lit on fire was the last time he saw her alive, a moment he continues to relive even now almost a year later.
“She was screaming my name, `help me, help me,”’ he said. “For whatever reason I can’t get that out of my mind.”
According to Deputy District Attorney Joshua Hill, the victim’s co-workers used jackets and sweaters to smother the flames before emergency personnel arrived.
Ramirez was then rushed to JFK Medical Center in Indio, but she was later moved to the burn unit at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. Prosecutors said doctors attempted skin grafts and other procedures, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Ramirez’s organs began to fail and she became unable to absorb oxygen from a ventilator.
She was taken off life support almost four weeks after her initial injuries and died Feb. 25.
Hill said among the witnesses he plans to call to testify will be a doctor who treated Ramirez at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.
“He’ll talk about the pain and suffering that she experienced.” Hill said. “He is going to talk about what it was like to have that conversation with her family in February of 2018, telling them that `now was the time to let Francisca go,’ to take her off the ventilator and what that was like for him.”
During his time for an opening statement, Guardado, who has represented himself throughout the trial, said that he had none, instead introducing a private investigator he employed who sat beside him.
Guardado’s limited engagement with witnesses and the jury echoed a similar trend throughout the trial.
He kept his closing argument to the jury to about 45 seconds on Monday, continuing what he started during his opening statement almost three weeks before — a sense of unwavering trust in the jury’s inevitable judgment.
“It is totally up to you guys,” he said. “… Whatever (you) think I should get, I’m fine with it.”
The process will go until at least Monday, when Hill said additional witnesses are scheduled to appear for the prosecution.
Riverside County District Attorney’s spokesman John Hall said closing arguments could begin on Tuesday.
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