Night Stalker defendant Richard Ramirez has threatened to shoot and kill his prosecutor with a gun that he said would be given to him in the courtroom by an unnamed friend, the deputy district attorney in the case said Tuesday. Ramirez also reportedly said he would then turn the gun on others in the courtroom.
The 28-year-old defendant made the threat from his Central Jail cell shortly after jury selection in his death-penalty criminal trial began on July 21, officials said.
Ramirez's threat to "get the D.A." and then shoot others in the courtroom of Los Angeles Superior Judge Michael T. Tynan was heard by a jail employee, who then reported it, according to Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. P. Philip Halpin, who along with Alan S. Yochelson is prosecuting Ramirez.
Halpin publicly disclosed the death threat Tuesday morning as he complained to Tynan that he had been searched before being allowed to enter the courtroom. "I understand this has something to do with the threat on my life made by the defendant," he said.
Ramirez, sitting at the defense table, appeared surprised by Halpin's revelation and listened intently. His defense lawyer, Daniel Hernandez, said later that he knew of no such threat.
Ramirez faces 13 murder counts and 30 other felony charges, including many for sex-related crimes allegedly committed during 1984 and 1985. If convicted, the self-proclaimed devil worshiper from El Paso could face execution in the gas chamber.
Sgt. Frank Salerno of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirmed Tuesday that "some threats had been made," but he said the office would not comment further.
It was shortly after jury selection began that a metal detector was put up in the corridor outside Tynan's courtroom. But it was not clear if that was a direct response to the reported threat.
Sheriff's Lt. Walker Force, who is in charge of security at the downtown Criminal Courts Building, declined to discuss the matter in detail. He noted that sheriff's deputies have the discretion to search a person if that person activates the detector.
Halpin said he had to walk through the detector five times Tuesday morning, setting off the buzzer each time. It was after that that a deputy asked him to remove his jacket, empty his pockets and take off his watch, eyeglasses, beeper and belt, Halpin said.
The veteran prosecutor said he objects particularly to having had to "disrobe" in the crowded corridor--before 80 prospective jurors being considered to hear the Night Stalker case.
"I don't see any reason why I have to be searched," Halpin said afterward. "It's not a good approach to law enforcement."
After hearing his complaint, Tynan apologized, saying he would modify his search order. "But I am very concerned about courtroom security," the judge said.
Halpin, 51, did not seem immediately mollified. The 23-year veteran prosecutor told reporters that he has "never been searched in his career." The irate lawyer added that if such searches continue, "they'll have to get another prosecutor in the case and I'll provide the security."
Force disputed Halpin's version of the search incident, saying the sheriff's deputies "did not ask" Halpin to remove those items.
Hernandez later said he also is searched daily, but he does not find such searches objectionable. "We don't feel offended at all--it's for our safety, too."
Since July 21, upwards of 80 prospective jurors each morning, from Monday through Thursday, appear for questioning by Tynan and the lawyers as to their ability to serve during the trial, which is projected to last between one to two years.
Those who pass this initial hurdle then are asked, one by one, whether they already have made up their minds as to Ramirez's guilt or innocence. Those who pass this second test are to return, probably in late October or November, to be interviewed about their views on the death penalty. So far, about 20% of the several hundred prospective jurors have passed these first two hurdles--a higher percentage than either Tynan or the prosecutors had expected.
In the courtroom, Ramirez's feet are shackled but his hands are not cuffed. During the long hours of questioning of prospective jurors, he is often seen conversing with Jo-Ellan Huebner-Dimitrius, a Pasadena jury consultant for the defense, and looking over the list of names of prospective jurors, occasionally scribbling notes.
After a large public turnout on the first day of jury selection, public attendance has dwindled sharply and, more often than not, there are no spectators in the courtroom.