Naked City

Ramirez Case: Back to DA

Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle now must decide whether to retry former Austin police officer Samuel Ramirez, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Earle's bid on Jan. 29 to have Ramirez's conviction reinstated. Ramirez was convicted in April 2001 of official oppression, stemming from a 1999 charge that he forced a Southeast Austin woman to perform oral sex while he was on duty and in uniform. Ramirez didn't deny that the encounter occurred -- the woman had saved his semen in a plastic bag -- but he claimed the encounter was consensual. The case became a rallying point for activists calling for civilian oversight of APD.

But in August 2002, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals reversed Ramirez's conviction; in a harshly worded opinion, the court found that Travis Co. prosecutors elicited false testimony from the 32-year-old victim which "reasonably affected" the jury's ultimate opinion. On the witness stand, the woman testified that she was "not worrying about no money or anything" and had no ulterior motive for pressing charges against Ramirez. She testified that she wasn't aware that any civil suit had been filed against the city of Austin on her behalf, even though she had contacted civil attorney Gary Bledsoe. However, just days before the criminal case began, Bledsoe did file a civil suit seeking monetary damages; although the victim wasn't aware of it, the two assistant DAs prosecuting the case had been informed by Bledsoe. The revelation caused Ramirez attorney Steve Edwards to ask for a mistrial, a motion District Judge Jon Wisser denied.

"[T]he State on direct examination clearly permitted [the woman] to testify without correction that she was not looking for money but seeking justice," a three-member panel of the 3rd Court ruled. "Second, the State ... directly elicited from [the woman] that she had contacted a ... lawyer, but permitted her to expressly deny that she did so 'to get money,' and to declare again that her interest was only in justice."

Having lost a bid for discretionary review by the CCA, Travis Co. prosecutors now must decide if they want to retry the case in Wisser's court -- without, of course, the ability to deny the pending civil action.

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