A jury determined Monday that a 23-year-old man who repeatedly stabbed a Garden Grove cafe employee, then stomped on the victim’s head while he was still alive, was sane at the time of the fatal attack.
Robert Gabriel Rodgers was convicted Oct. 3 of first-degree murder, and jurors found true a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait. The same panel rejected the defendant’s claim that he was legally insane when he killed 24-year-old Cesar Ramirez-Raphael on Nov. 14, 2014.
Rodgers, who pleaded guilty to attacking his mother on the same day of the killing, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17. Had the jury found that he met the legal threshold for insanity at the time of the fatal stabbing, he would have been sent to a mental health facility indefinitely.
Ramirez-Raphael was cleaning up before opening the Volcano Tea House at 10130 Garden Grove Blvd. when Rodgers “caused a distraction” outside to get the victim’s attention, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera.
“The defendant ambushed and surprised Mr. Ramirez with two knives in both hands,” Herrera told the jury. “He stabbed him again and again, over 20 times. He murdered Cesar Ramirez, and it was a cold and calculated murder.”
Rodgers “came prepared” for the killing, Herrera said, pointing to a photo of the defendant’s backpack, in which he had placed a hacksaw, disposable camera, two pliers, a bolt cutter, three screw drivers, trash bags and gloves.
When the defendant finally subdued the victim, he dragged Ramirez- Raphael to the kitchen area and “begins to clean — he gets a mop, bucket and is cleaning up the crime scene,” the prosecutor said.
In-store video surveillance footage captured the entire scene, she said, adding that he washed one of the two knives he used in the bucket. One knife was broken in the melee and the other was bent, the prosecutor said.
About 30 minutes after the stabbings, Ramirez-Raphael came to and appeared to try to get up, prompting the defendant to “stomp” on the victim’s head, Herrera said.
Rodgers then donned an apron and walked around the shop as if he worked there, she said. When another employee showed up for work, Rodgers put his finger up to his mouth and shushed her as he motioned her to come to him, Herrera said. She backed away and instead locked the defendant in the cafe while another employee called police, the prosecutor said.
Rodgers’ attorney, Kira Rubin, said her client also called police, and before being locked in, made no effort to leave. She acknowledged that Rodgers mopped up after the bloody brawl, but said it was “not a frantic cleaning” of a crime scene.
A day before the killing, Rodgers was at the cafe before it opened and asked employee Jenny Tran, who went to high school with the defendant, if he could use the bathroom, Rubin said. He attempted to hug her, but she “dodged” him and he left, the defense attorney said.
After he left, Tran sent a message to her old high school classmate to see if he was OK because he had been apologizing for “interrupting” her at work, and he said he was fine, Rubin said. A year prior, Rodgers had sent Tran a Facebook message, but she did not respond, the defense attorney said.
Rodgers did not know the victim, she said.
–City News Service
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