SANTA ANA – Jerry Flores was a 1-year-old sleeping in a crib when his mother was punched, menaced with a butcher knife and repeatedly raped in their Merced apartment in 1977 by an acquaintance she knew as “Mousy,” a prosecutor told an Orange County jury Monday.
The rapist – Richard Raymond Ramirez – threatened to kill the mother because she could recognize him and threatened to cut off her baby’s legs if she didn’t give him money she did not have, Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin said in the opening statement of Ramirez’s penalty-phase trial.
The woman saved herself and her baby by running naked from the apartment screaming for help, but some of her emotional and physical wounds never healed, Yellin said. Ramirez, then a teenager, was arrested by Merced police, convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to an indefinite term in the California Youth Authority. He was released a few years later.
Last week, a seven-woman, five-man jury in Santa Ana convicted Ramirez of the special-circumstances rape and murder of Kimberly Gonsalez, a 22-year-old bank teller whose seminude and bloody body was found in the darkened alley behind Mr. Barry’s bar in Garden Grove in November 1983.
She had been stabbed multiple times. Ramirez, who is not the similarly named “night stalker” serial killer, was out on parole when Gonsalez was murdered.
The same jury is now hearing additional evidence to determine Ramirez’s punishment – life in prison without the possibility of parole or another death sentence.
Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to death for the Gonsalez’s murder in 1985, but those results were reversed on appeal by a federal court judge in 2008 for jury misconduct. Ramirez, now 55, was then returned to Orange County for a second trial.
Yellin said Monday that jurors should consider the 1977 Merced rape conviction as an aggravating circumstance in favor of a death verdict.
But Deputy Public Defender Mick Hill told the jury in his opening statement Monday that life in prison is the more appropriate sentence, in part because of Ramirez’s horrible childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father who suffered nightmares from military service during the Korean War.
Hill said the father beat Ramirez’s mother and his children regularly, offered no parental guidance or love, and created an atmosphere of fear in the household. The mother eventually divorced her husband and left her son to be cared for by an older sister, Hill said.
As a result, Ramirez developed a heroin addiction as a 13-year-old, dropped out of school because of a lack of supervision and grew up in poverty, all factors that Hill said weigh in favor of a life term with no shot at patrol.
But Yellin told jurors they should consider as aggravating factors the 1983 murder of Kimberly Gonsalez, the impact her slaying had on her family and the rape of the single mother in Merced six years earlier.
Because the mother died of natural causes three years ago, Yellin called her son to the witness stand to describe the aftermath of the 1977 sexual attack.
Jerry Flores, 36, walked into the 10th-floor courtroom with a neatly trimmed beard and carrying a framed portrait of his mother.
The 1977 sexual assault, he testified, “destroyed her life.” He said his mother suffered breakdowns and hospitalizations, had a fear of big cities, and developed a hatred for all men because of what happened to her in their Merced apartment in 1977.
The penalty phase in Superior Court Judge William Froeberg’s court is expected to conclude next week.
This trial is taking longer than usual because Froeberg is required to recess early twice a week so that Ramirez can receive kidney-dialysis treatment to keep him alive.
If Ramirez again receives a death penalty, he will be returned to death row, joining 61 convicted killers from Orange County and more than 730 from throughout California.
By LARRY WELBORN/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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