Local News

March 28, 2014

DA: Death penalty still a possibility

District Attorney Bert Poston said he’s still waiting for all the evidence to come in before he decides whether to pursue Sunday’s killing of a nightclub security guard as a death penalty case.

Orlando Ramirez, 20, of Dalton, is charged with murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of Bruno Rodriguez, 28, and with injuring a second security guard at Las Delicias on East Morris Street.

Ramirez appeared for a bond and probation revocation hearing before Judge David Blevins on Friday in Whitfield County Superior Court, but that hearing was moved to Aug. 27 before Judge William T. Boyett to give the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices more time to discuss the case. Bond hearings for Fernando Antonio Resendiz, 21, and Juvencio Vega-Garcia, 20, who are charged as homicide accessories to the crime, were moved to April 4 before Blevins.

All three men had their hearings from the jail through an internal set-up that allows the defendants and the judge to see one another on televisions or computer screens.

Poston said after Friday’s hearings that state law allows district attorneys to seek the death penalty only under certain circumstances. One of those circumstances is when the killer “knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon or device which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person,” according to a state statute.

Authorities have said Ramirez began shooting just outside the building with a handgun after security guards wouldn’t let him inside the bar because of his age, but they’ve declined to specify what kind of gun he used, saying releasing the information could compromise the ongoing investigation. Rodriguez was not armed.

“Once we have obtained all of the information from the Dalton Police Department, we will evaluate the case as we would any other to determine whether any of the statutory aggravating circumstances (that allow for the death penalty) are present,” Poston said. “If a case is eligible for the death penalty based on the presence of one or more statutory aggravating circumstances, we then review the case and decide, after consulting with the victim’s family, whether or not to seek the death penalty. That decision must be made prior to arraignment and notice must be given to the court and the defendant in writing.”

Arraignment hearings are where defendants are given an opportunity to enter an initial plea. Such a hearing for Ramirez has not yet been scheduled.

Several of Rodriguez’s family members attended Friday’s hearing. His brother, Alfonso, said the family isn’t ready to comment on how they would like to see the case handled because they’re still in grief.

Since news of Bruno Rodriguez’s death circulated, supporters have rallied around the Rodriguez family with fundraisers to help with funeral expenses, organized a balloon release, and offered words of encouragement. Alfonso Rodriguez said the outpouring of support has meant a lot to the family.

“It’s really hard for everybody right now,” he said. “It means a lot to us.”

Ramirez was sentenced to 10 years in prison on “gang-participation” crimes in Whitfield County in 2010 and 2011, according to records from the Georgia Department of Corrections. He was released April 1, 2013, and, according to Poston, would have between six and seven years remaining in which he could be sent back to prison for violating terms of his probation.

Ramirez’s girlfriend, Alexa Jiminez, 18, made her $50,000 bond on Tuesday. Jiminez is charged with hindering the apprehension of a criminal for lying to investigators while Ramirez was being sought, according to police.

Public Defender Mike McCarthy said Ramirez, Resendiz and Vega-Garcia all financially qualified to be represented by the public defender’s office, but it would be a conflict of interest for the office to represent all three. Officials said local attorneys Mike Corbin and Marcus Morris would likely be assigned to represent Vega-Garcia and Resendiz respectively.

Rodriguez’s death resulted in the second charge of murder in or around Dalton in two weeks. On March 9, on Airport Road just outside the city limits, authorities say Skyy Mims, 21, whose last known address was in Detroit, Mich., stabbed convenience store clerk Dahyabhai Kalidas Chaudmari, 37, to death. Poston said he’s still evaluating that case to see whether any of the circumstances might warrant the death penalty.

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