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State High Court Rejects ‘Night Stalker’s’ Appeal

Times Staff Writer

Twenty-one years after “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court on Monday rejected the first of what will likely be many appeals before his case is finally settled.

The state high court turned down every claim the serial killer raised in his automatic appeal, including his contention that the trial court should have rejected the attorneys he chose and insisted he have a competent lawyer, as well as his challenge of the court’s failure to give him a full-blown psychiatric evaluation before his trial.

Monday’s decision, written by Justice Carlos R. Moreno, ran more than 100 pages and contained grisly descriptions of the 13 murders Ramirez committed before his capture in the summer of 1985. Before his identity was revealed, the now-defunct Herald Examiner dubbed him the “Night Stalker” because he crept into his victims’ homes after dark to attack. He was also known as the “Walk-in Killer” and the “Valley Intruder.”

Ramirez’s 1989 convictions stemmed from 15 incidents and involved a total of 24 victims over 14 months. He was condemned to die and is on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

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Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, praised the court’s decision, calling it “an across-the-board win for us.”

“It is one step in what will undoubtedly be a long appellate road,” Dresslar said. “But it is a good first step.”

Ramirez also has a constitutional challenge that has been pending before the court for three years. If the state high court rejects that petition, he can then spend years pursuing appeals in federal court.

Although death penalty appeals typically take decades to be resolved, Ramirez’s was particularly time-consuming because of the voluminous records and transcripts from the trial, according to Dresslar and a spokeswoman for the court.

The trial record was 48,325 pages -- “one of the largest we have ever had to deal with,” Dresslar said -- and it took nearly 10 years to gather and be certified as correct.

It also took three years to find a qualified lawyer to represent Ramirez on appeal, the court spokeswoman said. After 922 pages of written arguments were completed, the court spent 2 1/2 years deliberating before issuing its decision.

Geraldine S. Russell, who represented Ramirez in his appeal, said she was not surprised by the court’s decision.

“Given this case, it was unrealistic to expect anything different,” she said. Had the same issues been raised in another, less notorious case, “I would have expected a reversal,” she said.

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Ramirez argued in his appeal that the trial court should have refused to permit him to be represented by lawyers who did not meet the Los Angeles County bar’s standards for court-appointed counsel, which include being a California attorney for at least 10 years and being the main attorney in at least 50 trials, three of which must have involved murder.

Ramirez’s family retained Arturo Hernandez and Daniel Hernandez, lawyers that the Los Angeles trial court determined were not competent to handle his case.

Because the lawyers did not meet the court’s requirements, the state did not pay their fees. Ramirez’s parents, who had been factory workers, also were unable to pay the lawyers, Russell said.

But the California Supreme Court said Ramirez insisted on those lawyers and rejected others provided by the state.

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“A defendant whose request to substitute counsel is granted cannot complain on appeal that the trial court should have denied that request,” Moreno wrote for the court.

Ramirez, who broke into his victims’ homes and sexually assaulted them, said in his appeal that he should have been given a psychiatric evaluation to determine his ability to stand trial.

The state high court noted that, prior to his trial, Ramirez met with a psychiatrist for 10 or 15 minutes and then refused to speak. Based on the short interview, the psychiatrist concluded that Ramirez was “competent but borderline so.”

“There was no substantial evidence that defendant was mentally incompetent,” Moreno wrote.

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When Ramirez was arrested, he asked the police to kill him. While awaiting trial, he used his blood to draw a pentagram on the floor and write the number 666, which is associated with the devil. During his arraignment, he said, “Hail Satan” and displayed a pentagram and the number 666 on his palm.

Just before he was sentenced, Ramirez told the trial court that he was misunderstood.

“I am beyond good and evil. Legions of the night, night breed, repeat not the errors of night prowler and show no mercy. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within us all.”

The high court also rejected claims by Ramirez that gruesome photographs shown to the jury were unduly inflammatory. The court conceded the photos were gruesome “because the charged offenses were gruesome.”

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Ramirez cut out the eyes of one of his victims. Her eyes were never found. On the thigh of another, he drew a pentagram.

The photographs “did no more than accurately portray the shocking nature of the crimes,” Moreno wrote.


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