Day 5 and 6: Testimony begins in murder trial
Aug. 11, 2002, two Mountain Home Air Force Base airmen reported to Elmore County law enforcement officers that they had seen two sets of remains in a burned-out vehicle just off the Bruneau Highway near the Snake River in southern Elmore County.
Responders, in an attempt to reach the remains, removed the roof and doors from the automobile. As the two bodies were extricated from the vehicle, another set of remains was discovered.
Although they didn't realize it at the time the killer already had a ten-day lead before law enforcement were called to the burned vehicle, said prosecuting attorney Lee Fisher in his opening statements for the jury Monday in the murder trial of Jorge Alberto Lopez-Orozco.
He explained how using the license plates to track down the owner, officers found the last registered owner telling them that he had sold the car to Jorge Orozco.
The victims in the car were identified as Rebecca "Becky" Rameriz, 29, and two of her children, Ricardo, 4, and Miguel, 2. An autopsy on the older child listed the cause of death as undetermined. The other two victims had died of gunshot wounds to the head.
The prosecutors plan to offer proof that Lopez-Orozco had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the murders.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Terry Ratliff noted that most of the prosecutor's remarks had been correct. It is only in the details that they disagree.
He questioned how a witness had seen anything inside of the vehicle in the dark when there were no lights.
Lopez-Orozco did take the kids and Becky down to Bruneau, Ratliff said, but he claims when another vehicle began shooting at them, he left the vehicle and ran off, hoping the shooters would run after him and leave Becky and the children alone.
Ratliff noted that things are not always as they seem as far as motive and opportunity. He asked jurors to look at what police did and how they focused their attention on Lopez-Orozco.
After opening statements, county Prosecutor Kristina Schindele began gathering testimony from the first of the witnesses she intends to call.
Martin Hernandez Jr., explained that Rebecca's father had called to ask if he knew where Becky, Hernandez's ex-wife, was. She had left two of her children at his house for a visit, but she had not returned to pick them up. Becky's father, Ruben, and her two children, Noemi and David, indicated they had not heard from her in four or five days.
Hernandez made a request for a welfare check, and learned there was no one at the address given. He gathered photographs of Becky, Ricardo and Miguel for law enforcement officers.
Noemi Ramirez, 18, was only about 7 or 8 years old the last time she saw her mother. She recalled her mother and Pepe (as she knew Lopez-Orozco) had been dating for quite a while. They were going in Lopez-Orozco's white car the last day her mother was seen alive. Her two youngest brothers, 4 and 2 years old, were with her mother.
Noemi said she and David were going to go with them also but then decided they wanted to stay with their grandfather. They thought she would be gone a couple of days and then return.
But Becky did not return and there was no call. She did not see her mother again.
On Tuesday, prosecutors continued to work on the timeline and motive issues.
Witnesses tried to recall details of events that occurred more than a decade before as Elmore County Prosecutor Schindele and deputy prosecutor Fisher presented more of their case against Jorge Alberto Lopez-Orozco, who is charged with the murders of Rebecca 'Becky'Rameriz, 4-year-old Ricardo Rameriz and 2-year-old Miguel Rameriz.
Yolanda Bernal remembers Rebecca as her best friend, first meeting her when Bernal was in the seventh grade and Rebecca in the sixth grade. Bernal explained she may have difficulty in answering some of the prosecutor's questions due to a brain injury she suffered in March 2012. She has been in therapy since the injury and feels that her long-term memory is improving.
Bernal said the last time she saw her friend was when she had visited with Rebecca while Becky and her four youngest children were staying in a motel in Caldwell in August 2002. Rebecca was getting ready to go to her Dad's and grandfather's home.
The month before she had met Pepe (as she called Jorge Orozco) while attending the Fourth of July barbecue celebration at (Martin) Hernandez family in 2002. Pepe was there with Becky and her children. During her visit at the motel, Rebecca told Yolanda she did not want to be with him anymore since she found out he was married.
Defense attorney Terry Ratliff referred to a police report for information Yolanda had given about her visit to the motel in Caldwell. The report was dated Aug. 15, 2002, taken at Yolanda's house. She told detectives that it was Becky who took out a gun from under the bed, saying it was Galinda's. Yolanda said she could not recall that. She only remembers Galinda (not otherwise identified in court) dropping off some toys and clothes for the kids.
Schindele reminded jurors that because of the brain injury, Yolanda does not remember.
The first two days of opening statements and testimony in the trial wrapped up the previous week in which 12 jurors, six men and six women, along with three alternatives, were impaneled for the triple-murder trial that will be overseen by Fourth District Court Judge Timothy L. Hansen.
Judge Hansen instructed the jurors selected last week that they were not to discuss the case with anyone -- not with spouses or family members, not with friends, neighbors or co-workers, and not even with each other until the case is turned over to them for deliberations.
He urged them to keep an open mind as they listened to the testimony. He cautioned them not to investigate or research on their own. He told the panel they were to base their deliberations only on the evidence received in court.
The trial is expected to last six weeks, meeting four days per week, Monday through Thursday. Because it is not a death penalty case, the jury will not be sequestered.
The death penalty had been taken off the table in order to extradite Lopez-Orozco from Mexico, where he had been arrested in October 2009 on a warrant from the United States. Mexico will not extradite anyone facing a potential death penalty if convicted.
Lopez-Orozco has entered a plea of "not guilty" for each of the three murders that he is alleged to have committed.