Indio Police cruiser
An Indio Police cruiser. Courtesy of the department

A 38-year-old Utah man convicted of dousing his mother with gasoline prior to setting her ablaze outside her Indio workplace is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

A jury deliberated less than an hour on Dec. 10 before recommending Israel Ramirez Guardado be sentenced to death, but the decision will ultimately be up to Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos.

Friday’s sentencing hearing will begin with a motion automatically afforded to defendants who receive a death penalty recommendation, which mandates the judge review all evidence presented to the jury prior to handing down a sentence.

Guardado was convicted Dec. 2 of first-degree murder for the Jan. 26, 2018, attack on his 61-year-old mother, Francisca Ramirez, over what prosecutors framed as a disagreement over the custody of Guardado’s oldest daughter.

“I don’t intend to (file) a motion for retrial,” Guardado told Villalobos after the jury made its recommendation. “I’m comfortable with what the jury has selected.”

Ramirez died almost a month after suffering second- and third-degree burns over almost half of her body.

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 made him eligible for the death penalty.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in March 2019 signed an executive moratorium which suspended executions from being carried out, although a future governor can reverse that decision.

After the jury left the courtroom, Ramirez’s sister met with the jurors, wiping tears from her eyes as she hugged each of them, along with Deputy District Attorney Joshua Hill and a sheriff’s deputy.

“I just told them they did a good job and Merry Christmas,” Luisa Rodriguez, 60, of North Shore, said. “My next step is to feel that justice was well-done, justice was very accurate, very professional.”

Guardado acted as his own attorney during the trial, telling jurors repeatedly that he would accept whatever decision they made regarding his guilt and punishment.

“It is totally up to you guys,” he said during his opening statement. “… Whatever (you) think I should get, I’m fine with it.”

One juror, who would not give his name, said the process was extremely emotional for all the jurors, but he declined to comment further.

During the guilt phase of the trial, prosecutors pointed to various Facebook posts by Guardado to paint a narrative of the defendant’s desired vengeance toward his mother regarding the custody dispute over his daughter.

Ramirez was helping raise the girl at the time along with Guardado’s brother, Hill said.

“Times up… I’m coming for you,” Guardado wrote on Jan. 1, 2018, an apparent threat that prosecutors said was directed at his mother.

On Jan. 19, 2018, he wrote, “I’m back in Kali and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to clear my … keep watching this won’t go past Wednesday, just ask my mom,” according to court documents.

During the trial, jurors were shown video footage from an Indio police officer’s body-worn camera showing the victim walking toward the officer in the loading dock area of the Mathis Brothers furniture store on Highway 111 on Jan. 26, 2018, at about 5:50 a.m.

She was speaking in Spanish with her co-workers behind her translating.

Several of her co-workers testified during the trial to seeing somebody light Ramirez on fire that morning, but none of the men could point to Guardado as the man responsible.

Surveillance video from an adjacent building was shown to jurors that showed the events that morning in grainy detail.

According to the prosecutor, 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 and died Feb. 25.

Hill said that after the defendant set fire to his mother, he drove to the Indio jail to surrender, telling an employee, “I came to turn myself in. I just set a woman on fire.” Ramirez told a detective in the hospital that it was her son who had lit her on fire.

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