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Juror False Statements Lead to Tossed Verdict

 

A federal judge says a juror's 'false and misleading' responses during jury selection are enough to toss out the verdict. The defendant has been on death row since 1985.

 

By Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer


A federal judge has overturned the conviction of a death row inmate condemned for the 1983 rape and murder of a woman outside a Garden Grove bar, ruling that the jury foreman -- now an FBI agent -- deliberately lied about his employment status and failed to disclose that he was already a candidate for a job with the bureau.

U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall determined that juror Thomas Alston's repeated "false and misleading" statements during jury selection in the 19  85 trial "fatally undermines the court's confidence in his impartiality."

As a result, Marshall ordered this week that inmate Richard Raymond Ramirez either be released from San Quentin's death row or be granted a new trial.

California Deputy Atty. Gen. William Wood, who defended the conviction in court, said he had not decided whether to appeal the judge's decision.

"We're examining our options," Wood said. "We've advised the district attorney to let them know in case they have to make a decision on retrial."

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a statement that he would urge the attorney general's office to ask the judge to reconsider her ruling, or appeal it to a higher court. He vowed to retry the case if it was returned to Orange County.

"Mr. Ramirez was, and continues to be, a poster child for the death penalty," Rackauckas said. "We will make sure justice is done in this case."

Alston, now a special agent in the FBI's Portland field office, declined to comment.

Ramirez was convicted of the rape, sodomy and murder of Kimberly Gonzales, whose body was discovered Nov. 21, 1983, in an alley behind Mr. Barry's Bar on Westminster Avenue.

The 22-year-old bank teller from Norwalk had been stabbed 19 times and bled to death.

Ramirez, who at the time was on parole for previous convictions for rape, possession of a concealed weapon and receiving stolen property, acknowledged leaving the bar with Gonzales about 1 a.m. after a night of drinking and dancing, but denied killing her.



 

At trial, the prosecutor argued that a beer bottle with Ramirez's fingerprints on it was found near Gonzales' body, proving he had been with her in the alley behind the bar. Ramirez said he gave the woman his beer before he drove home.

The prosecution also called a witness who testified that Ramirez had raped her at knife-point years earlier and cut her face in a similar manner to the way Gonzales' was cut.

Ramirez was found guilty in Orange County Superior Court. He was sentenced to death on July 26, 1985. The state Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1990.

Lawyers preparing Ramirez's federal appeal discovered that Alston may have made misrepresentations about himself during voir dire, the portion of a trial when potential jurors are questioned to determine whether they have any biases that might prevent them from being impartial, said Sean Kennedy, the federal public defender in Los Angeles.

According to the trial transcripts, which Marshall cited in a 62-page order vacating Ramirez's conviction, Alston claimed he was working as a civil attorney when he was questioned about his occupation, despite the fact that he had recently been laid off.

When Superior Court Judge Donald McCartin asked jurors about any ties to law enforcement, Alston told the judge that his father and uncle were retired FBI agents and that his stepfather was a current agent.

"Why aren't you in the FBI?" the judge quipped. "You need not answer," he quickly added.

At that point, Alston failed to disclose that he had applied to the FBI, "completed all of the required interviews and employment examinations, and was waiting to hear from the agency," Marshall wrote.

In fact, the reason Alston had been laid off was because someone from the FBI contacted a partner at the firm who, until then, had been unaware the process "had gone that far," the order states.




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