Friday, October 8, 2010

Something doesn't sit right here

Bear with me. I realize I'm about to start sound like I'm defending a rapist. I absolutely do not condone violence of any kind, and least of all sexual violence. And I know this is not a popular position to take. But something about this case does not sit right with me.

In updating my other blog I came across the story of Alexis Ramirez, a 15-year old Mexican boy living in Liberty Township, Ohio. Alexis was convicted of felonious assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, two counts of kidnapping, three counts of rape and tampering with evidence. So what happened? The boy, then 14, allegedly broke into his 64-year old neighbor's home while armed with a pellet gun. At gun point, he raped her, drove her to an ATM and forced her to take out money, grabbed her purse and then ran.

I defend none, absolutely none, of those actions.

That said, I want to take a look at the timeline of the events at trial, to think about whether or not this minor got a fair shake within the justice system. Here goes...

March 19, 2010 - Transfer to adult court
Testimony in the hearing to determine whether Alexis was competent to stand trial as an adult focused on whether he was "beyond help." Two experts offer testimony - a psychiatrist from the county's forensic center and a local pediatrician who was also the county health commissioner.

Testimony Friday came from a forensic psychologist and local pediatrician on his chances of being rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system.

Dr. Kim Stookey, a forensic psychologist, testified that she met with Ramirez for more than an hour and subjected him to multiple tests.

She described his family environment as rife with alcohol and abuse. “He doesn’t like to speak with him (his father) when he’s sober, because he tends to be more irritable,” Stookey said.

She said during interviews Ramirez seemed “fixated” on the sight of blood — possibly even aroused by it.

Prosecutor says this testimony proves he is beyond help and that it would be a waste of resources to send him to juvenile detention facilities. Then-defense attorney Traci Combs-Valero says “I don’t believe it’s a waste of resources to try to rehabilitate a 14-year-old.”

Citing the possibility that there may not be enough time to rehabilitate him, the Butler County Juvenile Court judge rules that Alexis Ramirez will be tried as an adult in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. Ramirez, at 14, becomes the youngest criminal defendant to be tried as an adult in Butler County.

April 28, 2010 - Grand jury indictment
Alexis is indicited by a Butler County grand jury on charges of felonious assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, two counts of kidnapping, three counts of rape and tampering with evidence. The three rape charges are based on "three distinct places in the house" that Ramirez forced his neighbor to have sex with him, according to the prosecutor.

May 6, 2010 - Defense attorney withdraws, public defender appointed and enters plea of not guilty by reason of insanity
Traci Combs-Valero withdraws because she is not on the appointment list for the Court of Common Pleas and because Alexis' family does not have the funds to retain her. Court appoints David Brewer to defend Alexis. He enters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

May 21, 2010 - Judge orders another competency evaluation

July 22, 2010 - Judge finds Alexis competent after testimony from same forensic psychiatrist
Dr. Stookey makes a reappearance after she evaluated Alexis for the second time. Testifying to his competence to stand trial, she says:
[S]hortly after his arrest, Ramirez spoke of demons, aliens, UFOs and “ghosts in his mind.” But in later evaluation, he had “calmed down,” leading her to determine his odd behavior and acting out in the juvenile detention center was due to immaturity and stress rather than a mental illness.
While Ramirez understood the criminal proceedings against him and is capable of assisting with his own defense, Stookey testified he told her “he gets nervous during court appearances and does not listen.”
Brewer questioned whether Ramirez could participate in his defense if he shut down and did not pay attention.
“There is a difference between having the capacity to do something and choosing not to do so,” Stookey said. “He certainly has the capacity to pay attention and listen.”
Stookey said Ramirez is of low average intelligence, with some tendency toward being oppositional or defiant.
“He likes to irritate people, get them going,” she said.

August 20 - Alexis pleas no contest to all charges
He has apparently admitted to committing the crime. Continued news coverage mentions that he allegedly told a police detective that he guessed he had to "pay the price for having a little fun."

October 8 - Alexis is sentenced to 28 years in prison
Prior to sentencing, Alexis says, “I hate myself...People look at me as a monster. They have every right to. I’m guilty and whatever you give me, I’ll do it.”

The judge asks him what motivated him to commit the crime. He says, “I thought she would be scared and give me all her money...I don’t know what made me do all that.”

The victim, however, later entered her own statement contesting his explanation: “I offered him a diamond ring and he didn’t take that. I offered him a charge card and he didn’t take that...He was there for sex.”

Okay. Having spent like half an hour going back and forth trying to piece together that timeline, I've figured out what bothers me about these proceedings. First of all, there's no question that Alexis was the true perpetrator of whatever attack happened that night. He deserves to be brought to justice for his crimes.

Here are my problems:
He was bounded over from juvenile court to adult court on the basis of extremely flimsy testimony. The psychiatrist testified to two facts:
- That his father abused alcohol
- That the defendant was "fixated" on the sight of blood, "whether it was someone else's or his own."
The only basis that I could find for Dr. Stookey's belief was that he cut himself while he was in detention because he "wanted to hurt." Furthermore, I didn't see any indication that his prior counsel attempted to procure her own evaluation or even questioned the testimony of the two experts put on by the County.

Then, there's the fact that his attorney ditched him because he couldn't pay. But that's just the legal world and how things work. Money buys justice. So I won't dwell on that.

But it matters! Because, see, he goes to adult court where the very same psychiatric expert is ordered to evaluate him by the Common Pleas judge. And once again she gets on the stand and spouts off clearly biased testimony that does not in any way appear to be based on her scientific knowledge or professional experience. Instead, she sounds like she has a personal grudge against him. She literally explained away his "odd behavior and acting out" (including talking about demons and UFOs) as immaturity and stress. And the defense attorney did not challenge this! Then, after testifying that he gets nervous and doesn't always pay attention during proceedings, she says "there is a difference between having the capacity to do something and choosing not to do so." She goes on to talk about how he likes to irritate people and "get them going." Oh please, please, please... couldn't I have had the chance to cross-examine her? Because seriously.

Lady, you say he likes to irritate people? He must've irritated you. He really got you going. You didn't like his personality. You thought he was defiant. You said he was oppositional. Those are psychiatric terms of art, aren't they? Oppositional defiant disorder is a psychiatric condition. A juvenile psychiatric condition, right? But he doesn't have a psychiatric condition. He's just irritating.

Okay, which is it? He has a mental disorder? Or you're biased because he pissed you off?

It's really messed up that the defense attorney couldn't get a non-biased psychaitric evaluation or any other person on the stand to testify to his character or at least his insanity defense. Or something. Because the way I see it, he wasn't very zealously represented, and there were a bunch of people there who had decided from the outset that he was an insalvagable, hopeless rapist. I just wonder... did a fourteen-year old kid really deserve to be sent to adult prison for twice the length of his life? Or maybe I'm just a trial defense nerd who is missing her calling.

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