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'I Saw Something . . . That Captivated Me'

Couples: Today, Doreen Lioy marries serial killer Richard Ramirez. Many, including family members, are opposed. But she says this is 'the right thing to do.'

October 03, 1996|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She will wear white lace. He'll be in jeans. Her ring is gold; his is platinum. She is Catholic; he worships Satan.

If love does indeed conquer all, and this bride is betting her life that it does, then "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez and former magazine editor Doreen Lioy should live happily ever after. Or, at least until death do them part--which, in view of the fact that the groom resides on death row, is more likely to occur sooner than later.

The chestnut-haired Lioy, who by midmorning today expects to be Mrs. Ramirez, has no doubts that the man she has chosen to marry is indeed Mr. Right. Yet the reasons she chose him, she confided hours before the nuptials, "are inexplicable--even to me."

Ramirez, 36, was convicted in 1989 of murder after a brutal crime spree a decade ago that left 13 people dead and paralyzed the Los Angeles area with fear. The torturous, sadistic nature of the crimes earned the devil-worshiping drifter from El Paso a reputation of blood lust and savagery unmatched in recent criminal history. With appeals still pending, no execution date has been set.

The families of his victims, as well as the 41-year-old bride's own family, have expressed outrage at the planned wedding, arguing that a felon who raped, beat and dismembered his victims should not be granted such privileges as marriage. In fact, for more than half of the three years since he was transferred from Los Angeles County Jail to San Quentin State Prison, Ramirez was denied all physical contact with visitors, including his fiancee.

Exquisitely aware that the serial killer will never be granted conjugal visits and that even their most intimate moments will always be shared with armed guards, the couple, who have been engaged since 1988, nevertheless petitioned the warden's office for a wedding date shortly after they shared their first embrace early this summer.

"It was June 28 and when we finally touched it was one of those defining moments," Lioy recalled Tuesday night. "He is very tall [6 feet, 1 inch] and very thin, and I sort of fell into his arms softly and, yes, gently." Until that moment, the two had communicated only by telephone through a thick plexiglass partition, but even at that distance, Lioy said, her love grew.

"This is a feeling that began for me as long ago as that Friday, Aug. 30, 1985, the night before he was arrested and police broke into the television show I was watching to broadcast his picture.

"Looking back, I see it was a turning point for me. They showed his mug shot in the middle of 'Dallas,' and I saw something in his eyes. Something that captivated me. It wasn't as if I knew him. But there was something in his eyes . . . maybe the vulnerability, I don't really know."

Whatever it was, it moved Lioy to reach out to Ramirez--first with a birthday card soon after his arrest, then with letters, and finally in visits to him behind bars a year later.

It was after one of those visits that Ramirez biographer Philip Carlo met Lioy and saw in her "something special" and something different than he saw in many of Ramirez's other groupies. "This is a man who had many women visiting him and writing him passionate letters, including a woman who had served on the jury and who admitted she'd fallen in love with him even as she voted to sentence him to death," Carlo said.

"But Doreen is different. He trusts her completely and she trusts him. Everything in her life is about Richard. He is her sunrise and her sunset," said the author of "The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez" (Kensington, 1996). "She sees the same little boy when she looks at Richard that his mother does, that wonderful little boy who loved to dance to the music on the radio. . . ."

*

Ramirez's mother, Mercedes, had no plans earlier this week to travel to San Quentin for her son's wedding, but his older brother Ruben and sister Rosa plan to be there, as does his 17-year-old niece Rachel. No one from Doreen's family will be attending. Her twin sister, Denise, who lives in Burbank where the girls grew up, told the Burbank Leader that she no longer has any relationship with her sister. "Our only connection is that we were born together," she said.

Although Doreen is saddened by the estrangement with her family, she knew there would be sacrifices. "Because of my love for Richard, I have given up family, home, employment and my friends. And people say, 'Why?' Obviously, it's not to write about it or to sell a book. Clearly if I was interested in something literary, it would've turned into something 10 years ago.

"I always knew this would require a tremendous personal sacrifice. But I have never looked back. I understand others' disbelief. I understand their confusion. But from that day in July 1988, when he just looked at me and said, 'I wish to marry you,' I have known in my heart that this was the right thing to do."

So, if all goes as planned, Doreen and Richard will be united in marriage along with three other "death row couples," as a prison spokesman called them. A justice of the peace will conduct a ceremony without flowers, without caterers, and, some might say, without futures.

But this bride, though "probably as nervous as any bride is before her wedding," is at peace. "If you can find the nurturing side of yourself, as I believe I have, and if you can find the right person to receive that part of you, that unconditional love and commitment, then it is the perfect marriage."

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