Richard Ramirez’s Trial
Upon his arrest Richard Ramirez, also known as “The Night Stalker” was twenty six years old and charged with fourteen counts of murder and thirty one other numerous felonies, related to his 1985 murder, rape and robbery spree. A fifteenth murder in San Francisco with the potential for a trial in Orange County for rape and attempted murder was also hanging over his head.
Two public defenders were appointed to Richard Ramirez at the beginning of the case but he disliked them at all. Another defense attorney was to come and go before Ramirez’s family then appointed Daniel and Arturo Hernandez, (not related), to the case. Daniel and Arturo Hernandez had worked together before, on homicide cases but never on a death penalty case before.
At his arraignment, in October 1985, Richard Ramirez flashed a pentagram, which was drawn on his hand and shouted “Hail Satan!”. This did not help Daniel and Arturo Hernandez’s presentation in the slightest.
The first in the Hernandezes long agenda of pre-trial trial moves was filing for a change of venue. They were adamant, insisting that the publicity in Los Angeles had affected the whole community, and in other words, the jury.
They claimed that Ramirez would not be given a fair trial, due to the fact that many middle class citizens in the area had an image of the Night Stalker breaking into their own homes. A survey that they had done actually indicated that ninety three percent of three hundred people had heard about Richard Ramirez and that most of them believed that he was indeed guilty.
On January 10th, 1987 the L.A TIMES reported the final decision in this thirteen day hearing. Judge Dion Morrow stated that given the pool of potential jurors, he did not think that the Hernandez’s argument was a solid one.
“This is the largest community, I think, of any court system in the country.” Morrow stated.
In the pre-trial proceedings, Ramirez – who was dressed in a grey three piece suit and a red tie actually testified himself. He denied telling Sergeant Ed Esquada on his arrest, on August 31st, “I did it you know. You guys got me, the stalker.” His lawyers then said that the officer had not recorded these statements and they wanted them stricken. However, Superior Court Judge, Michael Tynan (who would sit for the trial), denied that.
Later, at the trial Sergeant George Thomas would testify that he had written down that Ramirez had stated: “Of course I did it. So what? Shoot me. I deserve to die”. Then he’d hummed a tune called “The Night Prowler”.
Excluding that appearance, Ramirez spent most of his many hearings sitting, slumped over in his chair and drumming his fingers on the table – as if lost in rock music, rather than looking interested or concerned at all. He was, or at least appeared to be oblivious to the graveness of the charges.
The trial, which had initially been set for September 1987, was moved to February 1988, when during the final months of 1987, the Hernandezes were adamant that they needed more time. In yet another attempt to buy even more time they then pursued the Orange County trial.
In November, one of the murders and one of the felonies were dismissed in order to avoid another extra trial. This was due to the fact that all the prosecution had to go on was a delayed statement by a witness who had seen Richard Ramirez a block away from the crime scene.
Judge Michael Tynan then decided and stated that he would, under no circumstances allow Ramirez to leave the country. This meant that Ramirez could not be arraigned in Orange County. The defense attorneys tried another ploy – this was by preparing to ask for six separate trials – this was to avoid having cases with little, if any good evidence, strengthened by association with those who did have good evidence.
In January 1989, it was almost certain that the trial, known as #A7771272 was going to postponed, yet again for another six more month. This was due to the fact that an appellate court needed the prosecution team to give the defense attorneys records of all the crimes that had happened over a period of six months in Los Angeles and that were in any way similar to those of Ramirez.
The Hernandezes were trying to link some, if not all of the crimes Ramirez was charged with, to other cases and offenders.
Prosecutor Philip Halpin was not impressed by this in any way, calling it an “onerous burden” to the police and then asked the court to reconsider. It was taken by both sides to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear it.
Then in March, the authorities of San Francisco were able to tentatively link Ramirez to four homicides, one rape, and ten burglaries. However, since they no physical evidence at all in most of those, they then focused on one killing in particular – the murder of Peter Pan, one attempted murder – that of Peter Pan’s wife, and a burglary that had provided evidence, which led to discovering Ramirez’s last name. They were waiting for the conclusion of the Los Angeles trial before deciding on a date.
In July 1988, the L.A TIMES reported that Ramirez had decided against a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The case was now nearing three years since Ramirez’s arrest. The Judge though, ordered jury selection to begin. The newspaper had quoted him stating (correctly so) that this alone could take between six to eight months.
The Hernandez’s next move was to try and get Judge Tynan disqualified based on prejudice against Ramirez. They were unsuccessful however, but yet again claimed they needed more time to prepare.
On July 21st, 1988 selection for Ramirez’s trial finally began.
Judge Tynan decided that twelve jurors and twelve alternates were needed. They had to be both impartial and willing to be able to serve for two years. This was obviously, asking quite a lot of them.
Judge Tynan was convinced that to obtain what they needed they may have to interview up to as many as two thousand people in the process. As it was, they interviewed few more than one thousand, six hundred people. Carpenters were employed to enlarge the jury box for this sole purpose.
On August 3rd, 1988 it was reported by the L.A TIMES that some jail employees had overheard Ramirez say he planned to shoot the prosecutor and that someone was going to slip him a gun while in the courtroom.
A metal detector was then installed outside the courtroom and everyone, lawyers included were searched. Ramirez however, appeared to be shocked by this and no gun was ever found – on his person or anyone else’s.
Finally, after several months a jury of twelve, plus alternates were selected. However, one juror was then dismissed due to making biased and racial comments about the death penalty.
In January 1989, defense attorney Daniel Hernandez was found “deficient” by a state appeals court, in presenting another client in an earlier murder trial. It was also discovered that he had a record of seeking delays for medical conditions caused by stress. Why the family had hired such an incompetent attorney, no one could understand. Again, he continued to seek delays.
The trial began at the end of the month of January. It began with Halpin’s two hour opening statement about the thirteen murders and the thirty felony charges.
Halpin intended to bring in at least four hundred exhibits as evidence. These included fingerprints, ballistics evidence and shoe impressions. One of these had been on the face of one of the victims.
On that same day, the L.A TIMES reported that in jail, in 1985 Ramirez had referred to himself as a “super criminal,” claiming he loved to kill and had murdered twenty people. “I love all that blood,” a sheriff’s deputy quoted him as saying. Halpin hoped to enter these statements as evidence.
Daniel Hernandez then declined to make an opening statement.
The case really began shortly afterward. Some witnesses had difficulty recalling memories after four years since the actual crimes. Others however were sure of their identification of Ramirez.
Some of them gave detailed descriptions of their ordeals at Ramirez’s hands. When he was asked to remove his sunglasses, Ramirez refused.
Halpin used circumstantial evidence to link Ramirez to the shoe prints left at the crime scenes and also his appearances within the vicinity of where the crimes had taken place.
. On April 14, after using 137 witnesses and 521 exhibits, the prosecution rested. Then, it had become clear that the defense strategy would be that the eight eyewitnesses—some of whom were survivors had all mistakenly identified Ramirez. They were then given two weeks to prepare.
However there was yet another hurdle. That of the numerous pentagrams. There was one in a car which bore Ramirez’s fingerprints, one on a victim’s thigh and also one in his cell. This was obviously a way of linking the crimes, especially as Ramirez was vocal about being a Satanist. He had even forced one victim to swear loyalty to Satan as he shot her husband.
The defense finally began three weeks later instead of two. They began on May 9th, instead of May 2nd as one of the prosecution’s witnesses had been ordered to re-testify. He had admitted to withholding information while under oath when he had described jewelry and consumer items linked to the victims and received from Ramirez. Halpin himself had uncovered the deception and said it was not damaging to the case. Daniel Hernandez then looked for an opportunity to appeal.
The defense team first claimed that the prosecution’s evidence was inconclusive. They stated the fact that there were many fingerprints at the crime scenes that remained unidentified. That hairs and blood samples were found that did not belong to the victims or Ramirez. They also had Ramirez’s father, Julian Ramirez-Tapia, take the stand to say that Richard had been in El Paso, Texas, for eight days starting around May 24, 1985.
A rape victim had stated Ramirez was at her home on Memorial Day, and another attack, which had ended in murder, had occurred between May 29 and June 1.
Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, an expert in eyewitness testimony from the University of Washington, testified that the stress of assault may have affected the witnesses’ ability to accurately recall details. She stated, accurately that errors are more likely to occur when the victim and the attacker are of different races. She also stated however, that victims who had prolonged exposure to Ramirez were much more likely to have accurate statements and details.
On May 25th, Sandra Hotchkiss took the stand, and claimed that she had been Ramirez’ accomplice during daytime burglaries in 1985, which had occurred during the time of his alleged murder sprees, none of which were violent. She also claimed he was amateurish and jumpy.
Witnesses for the prosecution contradicted Ramirez’s father’s statement, by showing that Ramirez was in fact in Los Angeles, where he was having dental work done, at the time that his father claimed he was in El Paso. Comparisons of Ramirez’s teeth to the dental charts proved this to be indeed true, even though Ramirez had used an alias at the time.
David Hancock, a newspaper reporter also contradicted Ramirez’s father’s statement by telling the court how he had interviewed Tapia in August 1985 and he had stated he hadn’t seen his son for two years.
The jury then went on vacation until July 10th, while Daniel Hernandez flew out to Texas in search of more witnesses who may have seen Ramirez at that time. He did find two, but Halpin stated that if Ramirez had gone there by plane, he could have made it back to Los Angeles in plenty of time to commit the attacks in question.
In closing arguments that lasted from July 12th to July 25th , each side pointed out the weaknesses in the other side’s case and the strengths in it’s own.
Halpin stated that Hernandez had raised issues that he never substantiated, by the way of causing a diversion each time. When he was finished, Ramirez turned to the courtroom and smirked.
After nearly a year, the jury finally started deliberations on July 26th. They had eight thousand pages of trial transcripts and also six hundred and fifty five exhibits to consider.
Within a week, one juror who kept falling asleep was replaced. Then on August 14th , Phyllis Singletary did not arrive. The judge summoned the jury and told them they could not continue without her, and the court was recessed for the day.
Newspapers reported that Phyllis Singletary had been shot to death in her apartment and the news travelled fast among the jury and remaining alternates. They wondered if it could possibly be the work of Ramirez via some henchmen and feared for their own safety, not forgetting the Manson cult of 1969, especially since Ramirez had plenty of groupies coming to the courtroom daily to show their support.
However the next day Judge Tynan informed them that Phyllis Singletary had been murdered by an abusive boyfriend and that her death had nothing whatsoever to do with the case. It was a coincidence. An alternate was chose to replace her, but the woman was so terrified she couldn’t even walk to her place in court.
Then more news came out. Singletary’s boyfriend used the same gun he’d killed her with to commit suicide himself in a hotel room. He left behind his confession, in which he stated that they had been arguing over the Ramirez case at the time and he had become enraged upon hearing her disapproval of Ramirez’s lawyers.
The defense team then tried to get a mistrial declared, which Halpin opposed. “The case must not go down the drain,” he was adamant. Debates emerged in the newspapers, one psychologist believied the shooting would influence the jury against Ramirez. However, the jury foreman assured the judge that they could continue.
When Ramirez heard this in court, he shouted that it was all “fucked up” and had to be restrained. He continued to behave badly during the rest of the deliberations, stating his trial had not been fair, and he was allowed to waive his right to be present in court.
On September 20th, almost two months after beginning, the jury stated that they had finally reached a unanimous decision. Neither Ramirez nor his band of groupies attended this hearing.
The jury found Richard Ramirez guilty on each of the forty three counts. They had also affirmed nineteen “special circumstances” which made him eligible for the death penalty.
As he left his cell, Ramirez made one single comment: “Evil”.
When asked by his defense team to assist with the penalty phase, Ramirez responded:
“Dying doesn’t scare me. I’ll be in hell. With Satan.” Then he stated that he would not beg for his life.
So to everyone’s utmost shock, they offered no witnesses and Ramirez was not called to plead for his life either.
On October 4th, after just four days of further deliberations, the jury stated that they had voted for death in the case of Richard Ramirez. The female members were crying.
Ramirez was present for this and left the courtroom smiling. “Big Deal,” he said later. “Death always went with the territory.” As he was later lead back to the county jail, shackled he added for the reporter’s benefits, “I’ll see you in Disneyland.”
On November 9th, Ramirez was officially sentenced to death nineteen times. He chatted with his attorneys throughout this. Afterwards he continued to add to his dark and enigmatic image with his rather unfathomable speech to the court: “You do not understand me. I do not expect you to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience. I am beyond good and evil. Legions of the night, night breed, repeat not the errors of night prowler and show no mercy. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within us all.”