Ramirez v. State, 66992

Decision Date16 March 1989
Docket NumberNo. 66992,66992
Citation14 Fla. L. Weekly 119,542 So.2d 352
Parties, 14 Fla. L. Weekly 119 Joseph Jerome RAMIREZ, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Michael B. Chavies, Miami, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Charles M. Fahlbusch, Asst. Atty. Gen., Miami, for appellee.


Joseph Jerome Ramirez appeals his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. * We reverse both the conviction and the sentence of death.

The relevant facts are as follows. Early Christmas morning in 1983, the body of a twenty-seven-year-old woman was discovered in the Miami Federal Express building where she worked as a night courier. She had died of multiple stab wounds to her body and blunt trauma to her head. Additional injuries included cuts on her hands and back and one stab wound into her chest cartilage. At the scene, police found blood spatters and pools throughout the dispatch area and break room indicative of a struggle. A bloody paper napkin and bloodstained fragments of a missing sixty-seven-pound telex machine were also discovered. The hot water faucet in the women's restroom was turned on full force. One truck had been tampered with and one of the loading bay doors was unlocked. The desk of an employee who sold jewelry had been opened, and a mail bag containing approximately $430 was missing. A hair was discovered on the victim's hand. Experts compared hair samples taken from Ramirez with that hair and determined that the hair found on the victim's hand did not belong to Ramirez.

The police discovered a bloody fingerprint on a doorjamb near the victim's body. From a photograph of the patent partial left thumbprint, a technician found ten points of similarity. Despite the fact that only approximately ten percent of the fingerprint area was discernible, the technician positively identified the fingerprint as belonging to Ramirez, an employee of an independent janitorial company which serviced the Federal Express offices. Based upon the fingerprint identification, Ramirez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Police investigation established that Ramirez had cleaned the Federal Express office on the afternoon of December 24. A week earlier, on December 17, the victim was unable to locate her keys to the building and had duplicates made. The lost keys were never found. Also, on December 17, Ramirez stayed late to do extra cleaning and special arrangements were made to give a key to the manager of the janitorial service. Federal Express's general policy prohibited giving janitors keys. On December 24, Ramirez mentioned to a Federal Express supervisor that the key he had been given on the 17th did not fit a door which he, as a janitor, would have had no reason to use. On December 24, Ramirez inquired about the amount of revenues coming in and was told by the supervisor that they had a good business. Several people including Ramirez were also working in the area that day when the money was counted and placed in the mail bag.

The girlfriend testified that at approximately 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve Ramirez returned to their residence. She stated that Ramirez left at around 9:00 p.m. in her Renault automobile to visit the home of some friends and that he was wearing a navy blue sweater with a fox emblem on the front. He remained at his friends' home until approximately 11:00 p.m. The appellant's girlfriend testified that Ramirez had returned home at some time during the night, but that she had not noted the time. However, when she arose at 5:30 a.m., Ramirez was at home. From the time Ramirez left his friends' home until sometime in the early hours of Christmas Day, his whereabouts were unknown.

When asked to produce the clothing he wore on Christmas Eve night, Ramirez told police the sweater he had worn was at Alvarez Cleaners, but the police were unable to locate a dry-cleaning establishment of that name. An inquiry of other dry cleaners in the area did not turn up the sweater. On December 28, Ramirez volunteered to the police a sweater he claimed to have worn Christmas Eve. The sweater was devoid of any emblem. Ramirez claimed the fox emblem had fallen off in the wash. When the police arrested Ramirez on December 28, they found a department store sales receipt in his wallet which indicated he had purchased the sweater that day. A store employee remembered selling Ramirez the sweater because she noticed his expensive watch. According to his girlfriend, Ramirez had purchased the watch on December 26. His old watch, found in the bedroom of his residence, appeared to have traces of blood on the band.

In the search of the Renault, police found a knife which Ramirez's girlfriend kept in the car for protection. The girlfriend testified that after Christmas she had found the knife in her kitchen sink and washed it. Her daughter returned the knife to the Renault when Ramirez, while cleaning the car, requested it to cut some string. Traces of some type of blood were detected on the knife, but in insufficient amounts to determine their origin. No blood stains were detected on either Ramirez's sneakers or the pants he purportedly wore on the night of the murder. A police technician, who was qualified as a tool mark expert, testified that the knife found in the trunk of the Renault was the specific knife which produced the victim's chest wound.

A detective called by the state related on cross-examination that Ramirez had confessed to a cellmate. The prosecutor had not intended to use this testimony because he had concluded that no confession had been made. Ramirez objected to the testimony and moved for a mistrial. The trial judge determined the cellmate had lied, gave the jury the curative instruction that Ramirez had not confessed, obtained the jurors' assurances that revelation of the alleged confession would not prejudice them, and then denied the motion for mistrial.

During the defense's case, a doctor testified that he treated a cut on Ramirez's left wrist on January 10, 1984. Ramirez told the doctor he cut his wrist with a sharp object while working as a janitor. On cross-examination, the state presented testimony to establish that Ramirez had asked a friend to bring a thumbtack to the jail prior to January 10, 1984. During cross-examination, the state also introduced two paragraphs from Ramirez's sworn statement from the pretrial motion to suppress hearing for the purpose of impeaching statements made by Ramirez which the doctor related at trial. In his prior sworn statement, Ramirez stated he cut his finger on Christmas Eve while picking up glass at an apartment complex, and that his bloody fingerprint could have been left at the crime scene prior to the murder. Other witnesses, including his girlfriend and the arresting officers, testified that his wrists and fingers were not cut on December 25 or December 28.

The jury found Ramirez guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery, and armed burglary, and unanimously recommended the death penalty. The trial court, in imposing the death penalty, found four aggravating factors: 1) Ramirez had been previously convicted of a violent felony; 2) the capital felony was committed during a robbery and burglary; 3) the capital felony was committed to avoid arrest; and 4) the crime was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel. In mitigation, the trial court recognized appellant's close family ties. Prior to imposition of the sentence, the trial court reviewed a ten-year-old presentence investigation report.

Ramirez contends his convictions should be set aside because: 1) the trial court erroneously allowed a ballistics and tool mark...

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44 cases
  • Geralds v. Inch
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Florida
    • May 13, 2019
    ...within the discretion of the trial judge, whose decision will not be reversed absent a clear showing of error. Ramirez v. State, 542 So. 2d 352, 355 (Fla. 1989). An expert is permitted to express an opinion on matters in which the witness has expertise when the opinion is in response to fac......
  • Brennan v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • July 8, 1999
    ...within the discretion of the trial judge, and this ruling will not be reversed absent a clear showing of error. See Ramirez v. State, 542 So.2d 352, 355 (Fla.1989). We find this case to be similar to Geralds v. State, 674 So.2d 96, 100 (Fla.1996), where this Court held that the trial judge ......
  • Brooks v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • May 25, 2000
    ...regard will not be reversed absent a clear showing of error. See, e.g., Geralds v. State, 674 So.2d 96, 100 (Fla.1996); Ramirez v. State, 542 So.2d 352, 355 (Fla.1989); Johnson v. State, 438 So.2d 774, 777 (Fla.1983); see generally Charles W. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 702.1, at 552-53 (1......
  • Smith v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • December 17, 2009
    ...within the discretion of the trial judge, whose decision will not be reversed absent a clear showing of error." Ramirez v. State, 542 So.2d 352, 355 (Fla.1989). Section 90.702, Florida Statutes (2005), If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact in......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Appellate standards of review.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 73 No. 11, December - December 1999
    • December 1, 1999
    ...(Fla. 3d DCA 1977) (experimental evidence); McMullen v. State, 714 So. 2d 368 (Fla. 1998) (expert testimony); accord Ramirez v. State, 542 So. 2d 352 (Fla. 1989); Meyer v. Caruso, 731 So. 2d 118 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999); Carrier v. Ramsey, 714 So. 2d 657 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998); Gershanik v. Dept. o......
  • Practice pointers for administrative hearings.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 82 No. 2, February 2008
    • February 1, 2008
    ...to express an opinion is within the discretion of the ALJ and will not be reversed absent a showing of clear error. Ramirez v. State, 542 So. 2d 352 (Fla. (16) Fla. Stat. [section]90.612(2)(2007). (17) Morris B. Hoffman, Top 10 Trial Mistakes, THE DOCKET, Denver Bar Association (Nov. 2001).......

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