Leticia Ramirez found guilty of manslaughter in death of Saul Martinez
After three days of testimony in 76th District Court in Camp County, a six-man, six-woman jury convicted Leticia Nohely Ramirez in the Sept. 24, 2017 death of Saul Martinez of Pittsburg. She was sentenced her to 15 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Ramirez, 23, of Pittsburg, faced trial first after being indicted for murder in November 2017. Three others her - brother, Luis Osvaldo Ramirez; Christian Omar Herrera Garcia and Mario Perez Tovar - were also indicted and after are awaiting trial after an autopsy ruled the death a homicide by asphyxiation.
Testimony began Tuesday, July 30, and the trial ended around 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, with Camp County Sheriff ’s deputies taking Ramirez into custody to be transferred to a TDCJ facility. Closing arguments by prosecutor David Colley, the assistant district attorney, and defense attorney Edward Estrada ran nearly 90 minutes before the judge released the jury Friday at 11:15 a.m. to begin deliberations.
Emotions ran high with the families on opposite sides of the courtroom and many filling the seats to hear the verdict in a case that has haunted Pittsburg for almost two years. Law enforcement agents lined the walls of the courtroom for security and Judge Angela Saucier warned that there should be no outbursts when the verdict and the sentence were read. Saucier released the victim’s family first, and then the defendant’s family. Both families were reeling with opposite levels of the heart-wrenching pain of loss, one caused by senseless death, the other to incarceration.
The jury had four choices to make, and the decision had to be unanimous. They could convict Ramirez of murder, the charge she was indicted on. They could hand down a verdict of the lesser charges of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, or they could find her not guilty.
The agreed-upon verdict was manslaughter.
During her testimony, Ramirez, who pleaded not guilty, answered Colley’s questions three times, saying “I didn’t kill him.”
Estrada called expert witnesses to dispute the autopsy results and to testify that a relatively new syndrome called excited delirium, coupled with an underlying heart condition, could have caused Martinez’s death.
Dr. Ronald Tisdell, a forensic toxicologist from Georgetown, Texas, testified about the dangerous effects of cocaethylene, stating that the chemical compound can cause sudden death and that stimulant drugs such as cocaine have been found to be associated to excited delirium syndrome.
Toxicology results showed that Martinez had a blood alcohol level of 0.278, which is 3.5 times the legal limit. The test also showed that he had cocaine and marijuana in his system, as well as cocaethylene, which is formed by the liver when cocaine and ethanol (alcohol) are combined in the blood.
Dr. Patrick Besant-Matthews, a forensic pathologist who previously worked for the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science where the Martinez autopsy was performed, testified that he did not believe Dr. Travis Danielson’s finding of asphyxiation was accurate, despite 10 of his SWIFS colleagues signing off on the report.
“I didn’t think it was particularly complete. He [Danielson] thought it was an open and shut case,” Besant-Matthews accused in his testimony.
The autopsy report also revealed Martinez had an enlarged heart and narrowing in a blood vessel, a condition his wife, Abby Martinez, said they were not aware of before he died.
Danielson testified that he ruled the cause of death as asphyxiation and the manner of death as homicide based on the presence of widespread petechial hemorrhages on his neck, head, shoulders and back. He said an arm being placed across his neck supports what they found in the autopsy. He dismissed his heart condition as a cause.
“I don’t believe the size of his heart had anything to do with it,” Danielson said. “I would consider it absent any injuries in a fight.”
Colley argued that it was the actions of the Leticia Ramirez, Luis Ramirez, Herrera, and Tovar while holding Martinez face down on the ground, and their delay in calling an ambulance when he was unresponsive that claimed his life.
The Nov. 17, 2017 indictment, amended in May 2019, states Leticia Ramirez intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Martinez by “choking him with her hands and arms” and by impeding his breathing by “blocking the nose and mouth” by “forcing his face against the ground.”
Ramirez testified that they were trying to calm Martinez down after he became aggressive and “came at them” when her brother tried to defend her from comments Martinez allegedly made about wanting to have sex with her. A fight ensued between Luis Ramirez and Martinez and when Martinez was on top of her brother on the ground, she said she put her arm around his neck in a choke hold and pulled him back to get him off Luis.
“We wanted to get him calm,” Ramirez said.
Leticia Ramirez, Luis Ramirez, Tovar and Herrera started the evening drinking and eating at Anvil Brewery and then moved to Jerry’s Bar & Grill, where they ran into Martinez, who was with his brother, Oscar Martinez, seven years his senior. When Jerry’s closed a bit early, and Oscar Martinez went home, the younger group decided to buy Cokes, ice and red Solo cups at the E-Z Mart and meet up at the Ramirez home to drink a bottle of Jack Daniels that Ramirez said she already had. Saul Martinez went home to check in with his wife and let her know he’d been invited to hang out with them.
Ramirez testified that she had driven Mario Tovar’s truck to the convenience store, and he had been passed out drunk in the truck since arriving at her parent’s house on County Road 3211 around 2 a.m. Saul Martinez got there around 2:30 a.m., and the remaining four friends drank two mixed drinks each from the bottle of whiskey.
“We just hung out and talked,” she said. “It was normal.”
Ramirez said Tovar woke up when the fight between Luis Ramirez and Martinez broke out in the yard, and he took her place holding Martinez down while she went into the house to find handcuffs that she thought she had in her bedroom. She came back out with a package of zip ties and tried unsuccessfully to tie Martinez’s wrists to restrain him. By that time, she said, he had become still, and they all thought he had passed out from the alcohol he’d consumed that night, which included beer and whiskey, and an energy drink.
Ramirez testified that she did not know Martinez had used cocaine that night, but said “everyone knew Saul used cocaine,” a statement that Abby Martinez denied during her testimony.
Ramirez agreed to give interviews to the chief investigator voluntarily on Sept. 24, 2017, and again the following day. There was a discrepancy in Ramirez’s statements to then-Chief Deputy Randal Lain from her first interview to her second interview about whether she was holding his arm or was on top of his back. In the video of the second interview, played for the court, when Lain asked her why she lied, she told him that when she realized that Martinez had died, she was afraid that what she did could have caused it.
Colley grilled her about lying in those initial interviews, which were admitted as evidence during the trial.
“Were you lying?” Colley asked.
No,” Ramirez answered.
“You told him you were afraid. You said, ‘I think it [putting her arm around his neck] could be a cause of his death,’” Colley said.
“Sure. Yes, I said that,” Ramirez stated.
Ramirez said she was nervous during her first interview and didn’t remember everything that happened because she was also drunk that night.
Danielson also testified that rigor mortis occurs 2-3 hours after death. Camp County EMS paramedic Denie Cranford testified that Martinez’s jaw and arm were stiff when they were working on him in the ambulance after the group brought him in the back of a pickup to his wife’s house.
Much of the testimony established a timeline of the events through phone calls, texts and Snap Chats of that night from when the group met at the Ramirez’s house to when they brought him home in the bed of his friend, Richard Ledesma’s pickup.
The group tried to reach Oscar Martinez because they had been at Jerry’s together earlier in the evening but couldn’t. They then reached out to Ledesma, a friend of both Saul and Abby Martinez.
Ledesma testified that he received a phone call and a snap [from Snap Chat] at 5:40 a.m. from Leticia Ramirez asking him to “come get your friend” and to get a hold of Oscar Martinez. It was still dark when he arrived at 6 a.m. and he tripped over Saul before he saw him on the ground, he said.
“I thought he was drunk and passed out.” Ledesma said on the stand.
He told Colley that Ramirez was acting like she was afraid.
“She was talking to [Saul] but he wasn’t talking back. I was confused because I didn’t know what was going on,” Ledesma said. “I moved him to see if he would wake up and I didn’t feel anything. I thought, if nothing [had] happened, let’s take him home.”
Ledesma said they lifted Martinez into the bed of Ledesma’s truck, and then Leticia and Luis Rodriguez followed him to Abby’s house driving at a slow pace on the bumpy, rural roads.
“Did Saul sit up?” Colley asked him.
“No, sir. About half-way to the railroad tracks, I started to think it was a bad decision. I guess he was dead. I was concerned that I had moved a dead body,” Ledesma said.
Estrada cross-examined him, asking, “’when you loaded Saul in your truck, you thought you were taking a drunk friend home, driving slow and careful?”
“Yes, sir,” Ledesma answered.
Ledesma also testified that he contacted his friend, Jeffery Skinner, a mutual friend of Saul and Abby’s, and asked him to go to her house to make sure she was awake.
Skinner testified that he was just coming home from work, and initially told Ledesma, ‘No,’ but then changed his mind.
“Something in my gut said to get over there, that he needed me,” Skinner said.
It took him just a few minutes to get there, and Abby Martinez was already at the front door. About five minutes later, the others got there with Saul Martinez. At that point, all he knew to tell her was what he had been told, that her husband was drunk and passed out, he said. After Ledesma showed up with Saul, he said he could tell something was wrong.
“He didn’t look good. I gave him some taps, some shakes and nothing. I touched his skin and it was pretty cool. I checked for a pulse on his wrist, his neck and put my hand up to his mouth and my hand on his chest,” Skinner testified. “I wasn’t feeling anything.”
Skinner said Leticia Ramirez was telling them that he just drank too much and he just needed to get inside the house to go to bed.
“She repeated that a few times,” Skinner said. “She claimed he was just drunk. She climbed in the back of the truck, I guess, to get him out, and that’s when I said, ‘I think we need to call an ambulance.”
Ledesma said it was his and Skinner’s suggestion to call 911.
Leticia Ramirez was the one to call 911, and could be heard on the recorded call saying, “we don’t want any cops.”
Abby Martinez, who was 16 weeks pregnant and planning a gender reveal party the very day her husband died, said she didn’t want to call 911 at first because she didn’t want to cause a commotion.
“Apparently, I didn’t know the severity of the situation. They should have called 911 two hours before,” Abby Martinez testified.
“When Leticia said, ‘no cops,’ did that strike you?” Colley asked her.
“Yeah,” Abby Martinez answered.
She testified that she’d been calling him to find out when he was coming home because it was difficult for her to sleep when he wasn’t there.
“The last time I called, he didn’t answer, around 6:30 [a.m.]. That’s when all the trucks started showing up,” she said.
“How were you feeling about him being out all night?” Colley asked her.
“I was very angry. Sept. 24 was supposed to be our gender reveal for Luci. She’ll be 18 months old next month,” she said.
Ramirez had told the investigators on the scene that Abby said, “He does this all the time.” When Abby Martinez testified, she clarified that statement.
“What I meant was that he had been going out drinking, not that he passes out,” Abby Martinez said. “I was trying to keep my composure. I try not to be dramatic, but yes, I was freaking out. The last thing I would want to believe is that they would be bringing my dead husband home. I only knew the information that they gave me initially. They said he passed out and they put him on the couch. They changed their stories multiple times.”
In his closing arguments, Colley said Ramirez admitted to at least manslaughter.
“On cross-examination, my first questions, I was reading phrases from the indictment. She admitted to every one. I didn’t ask her if she intentionally or knowingly did it. That’s the difference here. She admitted to doing the acts,” Colley said.
He said Leticia Ramirez admitted to holding Saul Martinez down with his face in the ground, and to putting her arms around his neck.
“She tried to downplay it by saying she pulled back, but we know it was more than that or she wouldn’t have been afraid that that was what killed him. She knew it could kill him and she knew that if you stop somebody from breathing, it could kill them,” Colley said. “She was apparently telling her brother, ‘You need to let him breathe’ while she was still helping hold him down, and so, that’s knowing that the stuff you’re doing could kill somebody and doing it anyway. That’s manslaughter.”
During testimony, Colley asked Leticia Ramirez if she had any remorse.
“You seem angry,” Colley told her.
“Of course, I did. My life depends on this. It’s always going to affect me,” Ramirez answered.
Asked if she wanted to tell his family she was sorry, Ramirez said, “I wish I could. His wife’s family ruined my life also. I would if I could.”
“This is your chance. Tell them you’re sorry,” Colley said.
Ramirez did not respond.
In the sentencing phase, Abby Martinez said losing her husband had turned her whole life upside down.
“I have no husband and my daughter has no father. I think that speaks for itself,” she said.
Ramirez’s sister, Niely Nieto also testified in the sentencing phase, saying she loved her sister a lot. She shared about her sister’s service in the Army National Guard, her job with the Titus County Sheriff’s Office, and her dream of working in law enforcement, and how she was a second mother to her son.
“She’s my baby sister. She’s everything to me. She’s the only sister I have. We have that sister bond. She’s my little boy’s godmother. We chose her because we knew we couldn’t have someone better,” Nieto said.
Asked by Colley if the jury got it wrong, Nieto said, “Yes. I disagree.”
Oscar Martinez told the court he was like a father to his younger brother, who played football for Pittsburg High School and went on to play in college, earning a business degree and working for Cypress Bank.
“I coached him and mentored him. He grew up to be a great man. He was my one and only,” Oscar Martinez said.
Before the trial, Leticia Ramirez had requested probation if she were to be convicted. Colley asked Oscar Martinez if she deserved probation to be granted.
“No, sir. I do not. She will still be here living and breathing. Her parents will be able to hold her. My brother won’t have that chance,” he answered.