Dark Portrait of Stalker Suspect Painted for Jury

Times Staff Writer

He arrived in Los Angeles from El Paso, Tex., in the early 1980s and began hanging out at downtown pool halls and the Greyhound Bus Depot, living in seedy hotels. He quickly met up with assorted drug dealers and users, car thieves and fences for stolen property.

At one time, he joined another person in committing daytime residential burglaries throughout Los Angeles County, sometimes traveling by bus when a stolen car was not available. But soon they had a falling out--his companion, a woman now in prison for burglary, thought he was too jumpy and messy.

And so he began going it alone.

That is when the nonviolent burglaries escalated into a series of brutal nighttime murders, beatings, mutilations and sexual assaults--seemingly indiscriminate attacks that terrorized Southern California, touching off one of the region's most intensive police manhunts until he was captured on Aug. 31, 1985.

Presented by Prosecution

That, in essence, is the portrait of defendant Richard Ramirez presented by the prosecution during the Night Stalker trial, which began Jan. 30, after six months of jury selection.

"The defendant probably rewrote the book on serial murders," Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin, the lead Night Stalker prosecutor, told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury. On Thursday, Halpin finished his closing arguments.

Ramirez did not take the stand to testify during the trial. But his attorneys, Daniel V. Hernandez and Ray G. Clark, who are scheduled to begin presenting their closing arguments Monday, have suggested to jurors that the wrong man is being prosecuted for the 13 murders and 30 other felonies.

"Some other dude did it," was the way Clark summarized the defense case for reporters one day outside court.

In his summary to the jury, Halpin recalled the testimony of witnesses and evidence collected by investigators in hopes of persuading jurors that Ramirez fits this description of the murderer. According to Halpin the killer's modus operandi rarely varied:

He entered darkened homes through unlocked doors or windows, removing screens when necessary. Often, he severed the telephone cord. Almost all the men inside were quickly dispatched with a gunshot to the head.

Sometimes, he also killed the women--especially those who apparently had put up a fight. They too were beaten, shot or stabbed and slashed. Often their throats were slit. Sometimes he used a combination of the techniques.

In one case, the knife wounds were apparently inflicted after death. One woman had her eyes gouged out. Another had a shoe print on her face. Two were beaten about the head with a hammer and another with a tire iron.

Yet, he inexplicably spared some of the women's lives--but not without putting them through hours of beating, rape, sodomy and demands for money.

When closing arguments end and instructions are given to the jury by Judge Michael A. Tynan, the panel of seven women and five men, some of whom have been reading murder books in their spare time, will begin deliberations. From that time on, jurors will no longer enjoy Fridays off, as they have throughout the trial.

To help jurors follow his closing arguments, which began July 12, Halpin, along with co-prosecutor Alan Yochelson, mounted in the courtroom a large map that shows the locations of the 15 alleged Night Stalker attacks and two charts that summarize the complex web of physical and circumstantial evidence against the 29-year-old defendant, a self-proclaimed devil worshiper.

In summarizing his case, Halpin has painstakingly reviewed for jurors the prosecution evidence against Ramirez, holding up dozens of color photographs of the gruesome crime scenes and the victims' wounds.

Among the evidence presented against Ramirez are his fingerprints at some of the crime scenes; eight eyewitness identifications, including those of six surviving women victims; prints of an unusual pair of aerobics shoes allegedly worn by Ramirez and detected at seven crime scenes; firearms evidence, and large amounts of jewelry and other goods taken from the homes that police recovered and linked to Ramirez, including some that was retrieved from Ramirez's sister, Rosa Flores, in El Paso.

Night Stalker Trademark

Halpin urged jurors to compare the knife wounds--particularly the throat-slashings, which he characterized as another Night Stalker trademark. They are so similar, he said, that jurors probably would not be able to distinguish one from another.

Standing alone, these "quite distinctive, large, gaping wounds" may not seem significant, Halpin said. But taken together, he said, they reveal "a continuous, serial approach . . . a signature, if you will."

Halpin also reminded jurors of the testimony of David Laws, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was standing guard outside Ramirez's cell at the downtown Men's Jail on Oct. 30, 1985, when Ramirez summoned Laws to the door.

Inside, on the wall, were two photographs of a dead woman--one of his alleged murder victims--lying nude on a bed with her eyes gouged out and bleeding from multiple knife and gunshot wounds.

Laws testified that Ramirez told him: "People come up here and call me a punk. And I show them the pictures, and I tell them, 'There is blood behind the Night Stalker.' They go away pale."

It was one of the acts, Halpin said, "for which the defendant was accepting accolades." To that, Ramirez swung around to face the near-capacity audience in the courtroom. He smirked.

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