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Judge Subpoenas Missing Witness in '97 Killings

Courts: Woman who recanted testimony will be required to post bond--if she can be found.


A Pomona Superior Court judge authorized an unusual subpoena Thursday to ensure that a woman, who has recanted her testimony linking two Pomona gang members to a 1997 murder rampage, appears at a hearing that could lead to the dismissal of their convictions.

The witness, Desiree Ramirez, failed to appear for a crucial evidentiary hearing Thursday on the case. That prompted Judge David Milton to agree to a subpoena that would force Ramirez either to post a $50,000 bond or to remain in custody until she appears at a new court hearing July 28.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrew McMullen proposed the extraordinary action, and it was endorsed by defense lawyers for Richard "Sneeks" Aguirre and Michael "Spanky" Guzman, the men now serving life sentences for the killings.

"For all intents and purposes, she is going to be arrested," said Seymour Amster, Aguirre's attorney.

Ramirez, 18, was the key eyewitness who tied the men to the Jan. 21, 1997, killings of Stephanie Contreras, 19; Armando Valle, 33; and Fernando Madrigal, 34, at Valle's home on 7th Street.

At a 1997 preliminary hearing, she testified that she saw Aguirre and Guzman--members of the Pomona 12th Street gang--running from the house, where police later found the victims shot execution-style in the head.

But Ramirez disappeared before the November 1997 trial. Milton, who presided at the trial, allowed prosecutors to read the transcript of Ramirez's testimony to the jury. That testimony was the key to their conviction; it also helped authorities secure a guilty verdict against Aguirre in the killing of 15-year-old Michael Reed Jr.

A year after the jury imposed life sentences, however, Ramirez emerged to tell a defense investigator that she had made her story up. Ramirez, who later signed the transcript of the taped interview, admitted that she had smoked three PCP-laced cigarettes shortly before the incident and identified Guzman only because she disliked him.

On the basis of those statements, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the evidentiary hearing before Milton. The judge could order a new trial. And if he doesn't, the Court of Appeal or a higher court could order a new trial.

On Thursday, Milton agreed to the special subpoena after hearing testimony from Pomona Police Det. Greg Collins.

Collins testified that he tried unsuccessfully to serve a subpoena on Ramirez earlier this week at a residence believed to be hers.

Collins said she had previously proved hard to find. The district attorney's office sent Collins to find Ramirez last May after hearing that she had recanted her testimony. Collins said he had to go to her school and have her taken out of class because she avoided him at her home.

During that May interview, Ramirez denied recanting her testimony after all, prosecutors say.

On Thursday, prosecutors also produced another report quoting Ramirez's relatives as saying that she told them Aguirre and Guzman were the men she saw moments after the shootings.

Prosecutors also won a small victory when Milton rejected a request by defense attorneys to have an expert on PCP appointed to testify about Ramirez's physical state on the night of the killings.

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