Clovis News

Fate of one-time Fresno hero soon in jury's hands

Thirteen years ago, a kid from Fresno was the talk of the town, honored by city leaders for risking his life to help save a 6-year-old boy from drowning in a canal.

Today, former hero Ivan Ramirez, 21, faces life in prison if a Fresno County Superior Court jury believes he did a drive-by shooting to promote a criminal street gang.

Prosecutors say Ramirez is a Sureño gang member who fired two rounds at a rival's home in Reedley on Jan. 24.

But attorney Mark Broughton, who is defending Ramirez, said his client quit the gang in 2006, got a job and has lived a productive life in Fresno.

He told jurors that Ramirez had a gun for protection on the night of Jan. 24 and used it to fire two warning shots in the air.

"He's a good kid who did a stupid thing," Broughton said.

On Monday, Judge Robert Oliver made a key ruling in Ramirez's trial, which is expected to conclude this week.

The judge said jurors will learn about Ramirez's prior conviction for a drive-by shooting in 2006. But he also left the door open for the defense to bring in evidence favorable to Ramirez, such as his childhood heroics.

In 1997, Ramirez -- then age 8 -- and three other children formed a human chain to pull Kasee Yang from a canal near Clovis Avenue north of Kings Canyon Road in southeast Fresno. City leaders applauded the rescuers at a news conference and gave them certificates.

A lot has happened to Ramirez since then.

Growing up without a father, Ramirez joined the Sureños at age 12, Broughton said. In 2006, he was sent to the California Youth Authority for a shooting that is similar to the present case, the defense attorney said.

Outside court Monday, Broughton said the potential life sentence is unfair because Ramirez has never shot anyone. "This is overkill," he said.

Prosecutor Chris Walsh, however, said it will be up to a jury to determine what constitutes justice.

Ramirez got in trouble on Jan. 24 when he and three others went to a party in Reedley. Low on beer and snacks, Ramirez and a female friend went to a store on Helen Street. Inside the store, two Norteño rivals confronted him.

"What's up, esse?" Ramirez said, according Walsh, a deputy district attorney.

At the time, Ramirez wore a blue sports jersey -- the color of the Sureños, Walsh told jurors. He also has tattoos that show his allegiance to the gang, he said. After an argument broke out, one of the Norteños got a bat, Walsh said. Ramirez and his friend then left the store. Back at the party, Ramirez vented his frustration to a friend. "He felt disrespected," Walsh told the panel.

He asked the friend to drive him back to the store. The friend didn't know Ramirez had a gun, Walsh said.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Ramirez directed his friend to drive toward a house near the store. Ramirez then fired two rounds at the dwelling before his friend sped away, Walsh said. Police later stopped the car and arrested Ramirez after finding a semi-automatic handgun inside, the prosecutor said.

Broughton said the case isn't that clear-cut.

He told the panel that Ramirez didn't do a drive-by. Ramirez got out of the car and fired two shots into the air outside the rivals' home, Broughton said, noting there's no evidence that a bullet struck the home.

Broughton also said Ramirez's affiliation to the Sureños is "old stuff."

After leaving the gang, Ramirez graduated from high school in 2007 and got a job in a packing shed, Broughton said. While in Fresno County Jail, he married 20-year-old Elena Gonzales in April.

Prior to the trial, Broughton said, Ramirez never told him that he had saved a kid's life. But since the start of testimony last week, Ramirez's mother, Eva Carrillo, has given Broughton the certificates her son received from then-Assembly Member Cruz Bustamante and City Council Member Sal Quintero.

"I've been praying to God every night," Carrillo said. "My son has changed. He deserves another chance."