Six months after his arrest, Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez's preliminary hearing finally began Monday, with the son of Ramirez's first alleged murder victim taking the witness stand to describe the gruesome discovery of his 79-year-old mother's body.
Jack Vincow said after he found Jennie Vincow's front door unlocked and a nearby window screen missing during an early afternoon visit on June 28, 1984, he moved quickly through her ground-floor Glassell Park apartment.
"I called her name several times . . . and I got no response," the burly, 47-year-old witness explained. "I quickly went to the bedroom and . . . when I saw she was dead, I ran to the manager of the building and I shouted, 'My mother's been murdered.' I said it several times: 'Call the police, my mother's been murdered.' "
Mrs. Vincow's throat had been slashed and she had been repeatedly stabbed.
Ramirez, 26, a drifter originally from El Paso, Tex., is charged with a brutal series of 14 murders--including Mrs. Vincow's--and 54 other felonies that occured across Los Angeles County between June, 1984, and his arrest last Aug. 31.
Los Angeles Municipal Judge James F. Nelson will decide at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, which could last several months, whether Ramirez should stand trial. If convicted, Ramirez could receive the death penalty.
The case has progressed at a snail's pace. Ramirez twice switched attorneys, and his current counsels, Daniel Hernandez and Arturo Hernandez, filed several motions, including an unsuccessful appeal of Nelson's ruling last week that the preliminary hearing be open to the public.
On Monday, Vincow's testimony was delayed while, at the defense's request, Nelson listened in closed session to an hourlong taped police interview with Ramirez the day of his arrest.
"We . . . felt that our client's constitutional rights were violated when he was questioned . . . ," Daniel Hernandez explained later.
The defense attorneys said evidence seized from a car and from a bus depot locker should be ruled inadmissible, because it was discovered as a result of information given to police by Ramirez after he had asked to speak to a lawyer but had not been granted his request. Nelson did not rule Monday on the matter.
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., Deputy Dist. Atty. P. Philip Halpin called Vincow to the stand, with a subdued Ramirez looking on.
During cross-examination, Vincow answered pointed questions posed by Daniel Hernandez about his refusal to take a lie detector test and about his brother, Manny, who has a history of confinement in mental institutions.
Vincow said he had "no idea" where Manny is now or whether he was free at the time of his mother's death. Manny and his mother had not been getting along before his mother moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1981, Vincow conceded. The witness said he refused to take the lie detector test because he believed the results would prove inconclusive as a result of the stress of his mother's death.
After the session, Halpin reacted, "I don't believe either Mr. Vincow murdered their mother. But it makes a great line of cross-examination."
The defense lawyers also said they would seek a contempt of court ruling against Halpin for his having allegedly violated a gag order in the case. Arturo Hernandez explained to reporters that the issue concerned remarks Halpin made to reporters last month about the death of police bomb squad commander Arleigh McCree, who was to have been an expert witness against Ramirez.
Court officials refused to allow reporters to view a copy of the contempt motion, which had been filed in open court.