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Coroner Says Couple Alive During Attack

In teen's murder trial, the doctor testifies Santa Paula victims may have been conscious while struck dozens of times with a bat and knives.

March 04, 2004|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

A Santa Paula couple fatally beaten and stabbed in their home were alive and possibly conscious while their assailant inflicted dozens of powerful blows with a baseball bat and two knives, a coroner testified Wednesday.

In graphic testimony in the trial of 17-year-old Adam Sarabia, Ventura County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald O'Halloran described the vicious attacks on John Ramirez, 59, and his wife, Joann Wotkyns, 55.

The couple were found dead in the upstairs bedroom of their home Oct. 21, 2002. Authorities believe Sarabia, a Santa Paula resident who was 16 at the time of the crimes, killed the couple so he could take their Chevrolet Monte Carlo on a joy ride.

During O'Halloran's two-hour morning testimony, Sarabia's parents, Eva and Fermin, hung their heads in their hands as they sat in the gallery section of Ventura County Superior Court Judge Edward Brodie's fourth-floor courtroom.

Across the aisle, Ramirez's sister, sitting among a dozen relatives of the victims, wept while clutching her son's hand.

After looking at and describing the contents of 22 photographs presented to him by Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Simon, O'Halloran said Ramirez had sustained a 4-inch knife slash across his neck and at least 32 blows to the body -- some of which fractured his skull and jaw and displaced an eyeball.

After a review of 10 additional photos of Wotkyns, O'Halloran testified that she also had sustained a fractured skull, beating trauma to her shoulders and arms, and at least 20 stab wounds to the back of her neck and upper back.

Although no vital organs were penetrated, the force the assailant used to stab Wotkyns caused one knife blade to hit a bone and bend at the tip, O'Halloran testified.

Additionally, blood and bruising found on the bodies meant that the couples' hearts were beating during the attacks, O'Halloran said. He could not say for certain whether the pair had been knocked unconscious during the attacks.

Ramirez and Wotkyns, longtime employees of a Camarillo computer tape company who were planning their retirements, died from blunt-force trauma, O'Halloran said. Their injuries were consistent with the assailant using a baseball bat and two small kitchen knives, which, along with the Monte Carlo, were recovered by authorities.

Sarabia has been charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree murder, burglary, robbery and the special allegation of committing multiple murders. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Simon, the prosecutor, has a pile of physical evidence that he says links Sarabia to the slayings, including DNA test results that allegedly show the victims' blood types on Sarabia's sweatshirt and Sarabia's fingerprints on the stolen car.

Sarabia's attorney, Jay Johnson, has declined to comment on his defense strategy but previously questioned how one person could have carried out the attacks.

Simon plans to complete the prosecution's case Monday. The judge will decide the teen's fate, without a jury.

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