Chrystal Ramirez (Chrystal Camarillo)

    

8-year-old girl, adopted by Rubin Stephen and Bettie Ramirez, was starved, had her arms and legs tied with tape, and was beaten with a cane to the point her brain and skull began bleeding. Her 10 year old sister and 6 year old brother were in the same home. CPS had been contacted numerous times.
Date: 2007-08-24
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Home schooling: yes

Location

San Antonio, Texas
United States
See map: Google Maps
DocumentDatesort icon
Trial begins for couple in case of child starvation2009-02-01
Gonzales County reschedules murder trial2008-07-09
Biological Mom Comes Face-To-Face With Adoptive Couple Accused of Killing Her Child2007-12-18
Trial begins for couple accused of starving child to death2007-12-18
New facts on child's death found2007-09-10
Gonzales Inquirer Editorial2007-08-31
A sad ending: Chrystal Ramirez' life a mystery to relatives2007-08-31
Little Girl Found Dead from Severe Physical Abuse2007-08-28
Parents arrested following death of adopted girl: 8-year-old Belmont girl's siblings in protective custody.2007-08-28
Foster parents jailed after death2007-08-27
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BREAKING NEWS: Couple found guilty

http://www.gonzalesinquirer.com/articles/2009/02/09/news/news01.txt

Editor’s note: A jury Monday afternoon found Bettie and Ruben Ramirez guilty of murder, child neglect and child abuse. The case went to the jury in the early afternoon and the verdict was read before 3 p.m. The jury then went back behind closed doors and began the sentencing phase of the trial. The story which appears below was written this past weekend and will appear in our Tuesday edition. We’ll have more on this case online by Tuesday and complete trial coverage will appear in our Friday edition.

Heart-wrenching testimony: Witnesses say Crystal beaten and starved

By NIKKI MAXWELL/news@gonzalesinquirer.com

The trial against Bettie and Ruben Steve Ramirez for the abuse and murder of their adopted daughter Crystal Ramirez, 8, and the abuse of her older sister Cassandra, began last Monday and continued through the week with more than a dozen witnesses testifying for the prosecution.

The first witness was Gonzales County 911 operator Diane Taylor, who received Bettie Ramirez’s 911 call Aug. 23, 2007, the day Crystal died. The next witness to testify was Kenneth Schaeur, a member of the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department since 1989. Ruben Ramirez was a volunteer fire fighter and he had worked with Schaeur at the fire station for several years.

“The last time he was active was 2004. We understood that Bettie didn’t want him to associate with the fire department, for what reason I am not sure,” Schauer said. On Aug. 23, “A page came over that there was someone at the fire station with a young victim. I was the first one to get there and Steve was in the pickup. The child was in the back seat.”

During his testimony, Schauer said despite Ramirez’s training as a fire fighter, he was not attempting Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or any other life saving attempts.

“We are considered a first responder and trained in CPR,” said Schauer. “But he was standing outside the vehicle.”

Schauer said Ramirez seemed upset as he began to examine the girl for life signs.

“I observed that the child had no pulse and respiration and she was cold to the touch.”

He began CPR and shortly after that, the Belmont fire chief arrived.

“I did chest compressions, but there was no response. We did it until paramedics arrived and they took over and put her in an ambulance and hooked her up to monitors,” Schauer said. “I was watching and he (Ramirez) was concerned. He said something to the effect of, ‘She’s gone.’”

Schauer said Crystal had a small T-shirt on backwards, and saw bruising on her legs and arms, and around her wrist and ankles.

“It was circular bruising. I didn’t ask Steve about that but he noticed I was looking and he said ‘these kids are always playing cops and robbers and tying each other up.’”

Schauer testified that he saw Bettie Ramirez arrive at the fire station.

“She was upset and crying, but I didn’t talk to her.”

District Attorney Heather Hollub asked him if he had seen the girls with the Ramirez’s.

“They live two miles from here and I never saw the girls with them, but I saw the boys.”

The boys he referred to were the Ramirez’s adopted sons, Charles, 7, and Steven, 18.

Bettie’s defense attorney Nate Stark cross examined the witness, asking him about the medical care available in the Belmont community.

“So if a citizen needs to get emergency medical care, BFD has CPR trained people?” asked Stark.

“Sometimes, but we are volunteers so someone isn’t always there,” said Schauer.

“I assume that as a first responder you have seen people who are deceased?”

“Yes,” said Schauer.

“In your opinion, was the child deceased?”

“Yes.”

Steve’s defense attorney Robert Caine took his turn at the cross examination and repeated the questions about medical care available at the fire station and the distance to the Memorial Hospital in Gonzales from the Ramirez home. As Schauer he spoke, sirens screamed from the Gonzales Fire Department across the street from the courthouse. The courtroom fell silent.

The state’s next witness was James Russell, executive director of Gonzales County EMS, who answered questions about his staff, facilities and training.

“We have 19 EMT’s and paramedics, three ambulances in Gonzales, two in Nixon, and one in Waelder,” said Russell.

“On Aug. 23, at about 3:21 p.m., I got paged out to Belmont Fire Department for a female who was cold, unresponsive and not breathing,” said Russell. “While we were out we were notified by radio by the fire department to call them by phone, but we were unable to. When we arrived on the scene, Brian Schauer and his dad were performing CPR on the tailgate (of a truck). She was wearing a T-shirt and a diaper. She had obvious signs of death and her extremities were stiff.”

Russell said Crystal’s eyes were sunken and her pupils were dilated.

“Dilated eyes mean no neural activity to the eyes, and no pulse,” explained Russell. “Her mucus membranes, mouth, nose and eyes, were all exceptionally dry. That means no fluid or blood flow in quit a while. You usually see this in acute dehydration.”

“Is this the sort of thing you see on a new dead body?” asked Assistant District Attorney Carrie Moy.

“No, you usually see a luster, but there was no shine (in her eyes) at all.”

“In your opinion was this acute dehydration or was she dead for several hours?” asked Moy.

“Maybe both,” Russell said.

He went on to describe her body and the ligature marks on her right wrist, and her ankles, and how they went all the way around.

“She was excessively malnourished, her knees were drawn up and she was ‘hands to chest,’” he said. “She looked like she had MS (Muscular Sclerosis). She had a flat line (on the monitor) and there was no electric activity in the heart.”

Moy asked him if he had noticed another child there at the fire station.

“The other small child also appeared to be malnourished,” said Russell.

He said he asked Steve Ramirez about what had happened and Crystal’s medical history.

“He said he went in a room and found her, and he didn’t know her medical history. He said that she had fallen off of a trampoline recently and had diarrhea for four days,” said Russell. “He also suspected that she had taken some of their (parents’) medication.”

Russell said he spoke to Bettie when she arrived and that she seemed to be frustrated.

“She had a ‘deer in the headlights’ look,” said Russell. “She said, ‘my daughter is a drug addict, and we just got her.”

Russell said he asked her what was wrong with her (Crystal) and she said ‘we did the best we could.’

“This didn’t happen in the matter of a couple of days, it was a long term thing. I was trying to find out if she (Crystal) had cancer or MS,” said Russell. “They just kept saying her mother was a drug addict.”

Stark then cross-examined Russell, asking him about Crystal’s appearance.

“Crystal was skeletal looking,” Russell replied. “When a person is in a position for a long period of time, like bed ridden, their limbs become stiff. Her skin was cold, she was dry and her arms and legs were stiff.”

Russell said that he grabbed underneath her shoulders and his partner grabbed under her legs to lift her small body and carry her inside the fire station.

“I wanted to get our ambulance available for the next call, so we moved her,” said Russell. “I stayed until the Sheriff arrived and gave my report.”

Searching the home

The next witness for the prosecution was Patrol Sgt. Jeremy Belin of the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office. He has been a licensed police officer for six years and his training included courses in child abuse. He was not on duty Aug. 23, 2007, but was called in to go to Norma’s House in Gonzales that evening at 6:30 p.m. Norma’s House is a facility used by law enforcement, CPS and other agencies to interview alleged victims of child abuse in a safe and comfortable environment.

“When I arrived, members of the Ramirez family were there. I was informed that there was a death and I was told to go to the scene to take photographs and look for anything out of the ordinary,” said Belin. “Mr. Ramirez gave permission to search the house.”

District Attorney Hollub presented the court with a copy of the signed search warrant, authorizing a search of the home and outbuildings on the property.

“I went to the home with deputy Law and Ruben Ramirez. I took photographs outside and throughout the house,” said Belin. “There was a lot of trash and rotten food left out. The walkways were unclear.”

Defense counsel and Judge Kirkendall examined the photographs.

“It smelled like a dump, and I saw rat feces in the kitchen and there was rotten food with mold in the living room,” said Belin. “I had to walk through the master bedroom to get to a smaller room.”

That room was Crystal and Cassandra’s bedroom.

As the actual door from the girls’ room as brought into the courtroom, the jurors stared at it and looked stunned. A cow bell rang as members of the DA’s office carried it in. The top third of the door had been cut off and a pet gate had replaced it. Small bells were attached to the gate and a cow bell was on the door knob.

“This door is solid and reinforced,” said Belin. “On the other side of this door was a lawn chair, a car seat, a night stand and two twin beds. The beds did not appear to be used.”

Then Belin described the lawn chair found in the bedroom.

“I noticed it had padding with a piece of wood underneath it, the sheets had some type of fluid on it like blood, and a bucket was under it with fluid in it,” said Belin.

Hollub then showed the jury a photograph of a package of diapers, and a car seat also found in the room.

“Did you find it strange to have a car seat in an eight and 10 year old’s room?” She asked him.

“Yes, I did,” Belin replied.

The DA asked about other photographs of the room, showing wear on the headboards of the twin size beds.

“Were there any toys in this room,” she asked Belin.

“No,”

Then Hollub unfolded the lawn chair (found in the room) in front of the jury.

She asked Belin about Steve Ramirez’s behavior as he searched the home.

“He showed no emotion about his daughter who had just died, did he?” Hollub asked.

“No. He spoke about Steven (adopted son, 18) going to college,” Belin replied. “He seemed very proud about that.”

Hollub then entered six rolls of packing tape into evidence, all found in the Ramirez home (in the girls’ room and the master bedroom) by Belin.

“Did you find it odd to have so much tape in the house?” Hollub asked him.

“Yes,” Belin said.

The house had two more bedrooms, and he said, “You couldn’t walk around the bed in one of them.”

He said there were Legos in one room but, “they appeared to be boy toys.”

Stark cross examined Belin and asked him if he was instructed on what to photograph.

“I was told to photograph everything,” said Belin.

Stark asked Belin to walk over to the girls’ bedroom door and asked him if her thought a person who was 5’4” could see over the door through the pet gate.

Hollub objected, “That calls for speculation.”

Stark retracted the question, then asked Belin if he had opened the locked cabinets in the girls’ room and if he knew if there were any toys in there. Belin replied that he did not open them.

“Did Mr. Ramirez tell you that the cot (lawn chair) was where his wife slept when she took care of them (the girls)?”

“I think so,” said Belin.

He asked him if the condition of the home and what he saw would have caused him to investigate it if he was there the day before.

Hollub objected on grounds for speculation. It was sustained.

“Did Mr. Ramirez tell you why he had a door like this,” Stark said.

“No, and I didn’t ask,” said Belin.

Caine asked Belin if he saw animals on the property, and he replied yes. Then Hollub redirected the witness, and asked him if Steve had brought him anything while he was at the property.

“While I was parked outside the gate of the home hours later, Mr. Ramirez drove up and said he had something to give me,” said Belin. “He asked me to come inside and got the cane from behind the dresser in his bedroom.”

Hollub also asked him about some plastic chair legs that were found in the girls’ room. She showed photos to the jury of a cable style bicycle lock found on the girls’ night stand, then produced the actual lock for them to examine. She pointed out that there was hair stuck to some tape on the lock. She then asked Belin of his impression of the room.

“The room appeared to be cleaned up, more organized than the rest of the house, as if someone tried to make it look better,” he said.

Hearth-wrenching testimony

The next witness for the prosecution was Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dennis Richter. “We received a 911 call at 3:20 p.m. saying a girl was not breathing,” said Richter. “When I arrived at Belmont Fire Department I saw the body of Crystal Ramirez. She was wearing a diaper and a T-shirt. There was bruising on her face, her back, all over. She was tiny to be eight years old.”

Richter photographed the body from head to toe. The DA asked Richter to describe the content of each photograph as the jury reviewed them.

“You can see in the first one that her ribs are pronounced, in the next one her hair looks like it was pulled out,” said Richter. “In the next few photos you can see her legs, feet, and ankles and lines like ligature marks on them. She had swollen feet, they were blue and bruised and the toenails looked mashed.”

Richter said her legs were bent and stiff.

“It appears to me that she may have died in that position,” Richter said. Her right shoulder was bruised and she had ligature marks around her rib cage. She appeared to be very malnourished.”

He said he turned her over to take a full length picture and noticed bed sores on her back.

“Some skin was missing under and around her diaper and she had sores in different stages of healing,” Richter said. “She reminded me of someone who was bed ridden in a hospital.”

The photos showed ligature marks on her wrists and swollen fingers.

“She had sores and bruises on most every part of her body,” said Richter.

After taking the photographs, Gonzales County Sheriff Glen Sachtleben told him Crystal’s older sister Cassandra Ramirez, 10, had marks consistent with Crystal’s. The ligature marks were in the same places on her body. He said that’s when they asked the family to go to Norma’s House.

“Charlie, 6, the little brother, looked fine,” said Richter. “Cassandra looked malnourished, very thin and her clothes didn’t fit. They were way too small.”

He said Cassandra and Charlie were interviewed at Norma’s House separately in a room while authorities monitored the interview from another room in the house. Bettie and Ruben Steve Ramirez waited in a family area in the house.

“Cassie had answers for everything about what happened to Crystal, but not about what happened to her,” Richter said.

“Is it better not to have them (parents) at Norma’s House during questioning of a child?” asked Hollub.

“Yes,” replied Richter, stating that the child may feel intimidated and not be honest.

Hollub then asked Richter about an interview with Ruben Ramirez at the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office, Aug. 24.

“During the interview with Mr. Ramirez, he said he had hit Crystal and said he taped the girls up in their room using mono filament tape,” said Richter. “He said they had behavior problems and that they were stealing food, candy and sweets at night and had pooped on the floor and smeared it on the wall.”

Richter said that during Bettie’s interview at the Sheriff’s Office, after her husband’s, she said that Crystal had diarrhea and had fallen off a trampoline a couple of days before her death.

Richter said they spoke with the oldest son, Steven Ramirez, (18 at the time), who said his parents taped the girls up and restrained them and that he had cut them loose a few times.

Richter testified that he attended Crystal’s autopsy in Austin.

“After the autopsy, was it your belief that you were dealing with a homicide?” asked Hollub.

Looking very upset and haunted by the memory of the girl’s death, Richter said yes.

“When I saw Mr. Ramirez after the autopsy he said to me, ‘It was bad, wasn’t it?’”

Hollub asked the Chief Deputy about other items found in the home including a lawn chair with tape stuck to it, and the boarded up window in the girls’ bedroom.

“Could someone see outside or get fresh air?” Hollub asked Richter.

“No, ma’am,” he replied.

He also explained how the girls’ closet was tied up, preventing access to any toys inside.

“The room smelled bad and it was very disturbing how it was arranged,” he said. “The lock was on the outside of the door.”

Defense attorney Caine cross examined Richter and asked him a very direct question.

“You say the girls’ bedroom disturbed you, but there were no wire racks and thumb screws in the room, were there?” Caine asked.

“No, but that door was disturbing!” Richter answered as he pointed towards the door in the corner of the courtroom.

“Did you find it odd that the room was so clean compared to the rest of the house?” Caine asked.

“Yes,” Richter said. “It looked like it was being cleaned up.”

“How do you know if a child is coached?” asked Caine.

“Inconsistencies,” he replied.

Hollub redirected the witness, asking him again about the girls‘ bedroom.

“The windows were boarded up and it was dangerous,” Richter said.

“Have you ever seen a pet gate used this way?” Hollub asked, pointing toward the bedroom door.

“No.”

“Does that disturb you and why?”

“Yes, because it’s locked from the outside,” Richter said.

Richter testified that the Ramirez couple had no medical histories on the girls and couldn’t tell him when the girls had last been to the doctor. He spoke about the interview with Ruben Steve Ramirez at the Sheriff’s Office and how he made a motion to his head when he referred to hitting the girls. He said that Ramirez told him that Crystal hadn’t walked since Saturday. (She was pronounced dead the following Thursday).

“At Norma’s House, Charlie indicated that he wasn’t supposed to talk about things at home, and Cassandra’s demeanor changed when she was questioned about her injuries,” said Richter.

“The only persons who appeared malnourished, who were taped up and were kept in a room with boarded up windows and a locked door were who?” Hollub asked Richter.

“Crystal and Cassandra,” Richer replied.

More testimony

Next to take the witness stand was Texas Ranger Dwayne Goll, who, with Richter, conducted the interviews of the defendants at the Sheriff’s Office in 2007.

“I was called in to assist with the investigation of a child’s death,” said Goll.

ADA Moy played the video tape of the Aug. 24 interview of Ruben Steve Ramirez for the jury. As it played, Ramirez hunched his shoulders forward and sank lower into his chair. On the recording he explained to Goll how he found Crystal in the house cold and not breathing. He spoke of how the girls had a hard time getting along and said their (biological) mother had taken drugs while she was pregnant. He blamed Crystal’s thinness on parasites.

He spoke of taping the girls up, admitting that he and his wife “taped their hands and feet about three times a week for about three months.” He also admitted to tying Crystal to a bedpost.

“We are at the end of our rope. We tried everything,” he said on the tape. “The girls steal cakes and sugary foods and hid it in the bathroom to eat it all.”

He said Charlie was the good one.

“I wish I could turn the clock back,” Ramirez said during the interview. “I would have taken her (Crystal) to a doctor. There are times when I probably lost it with both of them.”

He referred to an incident when they pooped on the carpet and smeared it on the walls.

“I think I did pop them once in the head with my cane. I don’t know which one.”

To explain the marks on Crystal’s face, he said she bit her hands and scratched herself.

Goll asked him when the girls were last out in public, and Ramirez said it had been about two weeks since Crystal had been outside the house.

“They would sneak into the kitchen and take food, that’s why we locked the door and put on a cowbell,” he said.

Goll continued his testimony when court resumed Wednesday morning.

“I asked him (Ramirez) if he had spoken to his wife on the way to the Sheriff’s Office and he replied, ’Do you mean did we cook up a story?’” asked Goll.

Next, ADA Moy played the video tape of Bettie’s Aug. 24, 2007 interview with Goll for the jury. During the interview she told Goll that the lawn chair found in the girls’ bedroom was for her. She spoke about being in the hospital and her and her husband’s medical problems. Goll asked her about the children and their birth father, her nephew Charles Cheatham who is in prison.

“I had no reason to hurt my kids. I was in their room (sleeping on the lawn chair) because I didn’t want to be turning the light on and disturbing the rest of the family,” said Ramirez. “We’ve had trouble with Cassie and Crystal.”

Goll reminded her throughout the interview that she was not under arrest and was free to go anytime, just as he had done with her husband earlier.

“I don’t have a reason not to say anything,” she replied.

She spoke of buying the trampoline a few weeks earlier and that it had four broken springs. “I said ‘don’t jump high’ (to the kids),” said Ramirez.

“When did Crystal fall (on the trampoline)?” asked Goll on the tape.

“I think it was Tuesday,” replied Ramirez.

Then he asked her about the day Crystal died.

“I was moving the beds in their room and I saw she wasn’t breathing,” she said. “I was right there in the room. Cassie said Crystal was sleeping, so I said don’t bother her and I told her to take a bath. I panicked.”

Ramirez told Goll that the marks on her wrists were from the trampoline springs. Then she said, “I don’t know how they got there, I honestly don’t know.”

At that point in the interview Goll confronted her about the tape and told her that her husband had already admitted to taping the girls. As he told her that, her posture and attitude began to change. He went on to say that the marks on Crystal’s wrist were not from a trampoline. Ramirez was silent for about 30 seconds and then whispered, “I might have hit her a couple of times.”

Then she admitted to Goll and Richter (who was also in the room during the interview) that she taped the girls “once or twice because they were fighting, but it wasn’t tight.”

“What about their feet and ankles?” Goll asked her.

“Well, once I went in their room and saw that the tape had slipped so maybe it cut them,” she explained. “I made a mistake, but I put it on the kids when they were kicking when I came home from the hospital, and I used masking tape.”

“Did you tie them to anything?” Goll asked her.

“Oh no!” she answered loudly. Then after seeming to consider her answer, she said that she had done it once.

“At night I caught them crawling out of their room and around the house getting into medicine,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of trouble with them and have been home schooling them for two years. The baby door was so we could see them. The bells were so we could hear them, I’m a light sleeper. They were locking the door from the inside so we turned the lock around.”

She said they both disciplined the girls, but that she doesn’t ‘leave any marks.’

Goll asked her if she had ever struck the children with any blunt objects.

“I don’t think so but I’m not positive,” she said.

“And if Crystal has any broken bones or ribs?” Goll asked.

“Would it be from the trampoline?” Ramirez answered.

“Does your husband spank the kids?” Goll asked.

“Yes, but they don’t scream and holler,” she said.

During the interview Goll brought up the issue of Crystal’s weight and thinness for her age.

“She’s always been that way, but she eats good. She was thin when we got her.”

Bettie claimed she made Crystal a cheese sandwich the day she died, but that she didn’t want it. She spoke about the girls’ diarrhea and admitted that they hadn’t been to the doctor or dentist in about two years.

Goll and Richter asked her about her cell phone and whether she had called her husband on the way to the Sheriff’s Office.

“What do you think Crystal died from?” Goll asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. Then, she paused and said, “I want you to be honest with me. I watch TV and if something turns up, even if we didn’t do it, we will be under arrest.”

“I’ll be very honest with you, these girls look very thin and malnourished,” said Goll.

“They eat, they eat good,” Ramirez insisted. “Three meals a day.”

“Was anyone else concerned about the size of the girls?” Goll asked.

“No, they eat good,” she repeated.

After Goll asked a few more questions about how the girls played together, Ramirez asked her own question.

“Can I go now? I’d like to go home and make funeral arrangements,” she said. “I want to get this funeral behind me.”

Goll reminded her that she was not under arrest and informed her that he and Richter were going to Austin for the autopsy results. That was the end of the interview tape.

“After the interviews, did you know where you needed the investigation to go?” asked Moy.

“Yes, the things that stuck out in my mind are that we have a pet gate that is explained as ‘for ventilation and so we can see in.’ Also, why were an 8 year old and 10 year old wearing diapers? Why did they have to yell out to let people know they had to go to the bathroom?” Said Goll. “I’ve had several baby deaths (cases) and whenever we’ve had someone lose their child from natural causes, they are uninterviewable. In this case they were both able to be interviewed and answered every question. Bettie was crying until she was confronted with the taping. Also, when she said ‘I want to get this funeral behind me,’ it was very selfish. In interviews you pay attention to word choices.”

Then Stark cross-examined Goll and asked him why he didn‘t gather more evidence from the trampoline, other than photographs.

“I wish I could bring the trampoline and the whole house in here,” Goll said.

Then Stark asked him about his interview techniques and lack of follow up questions.

“Is it unusual that you found something in the statement and pin pointed on it?” he asked.

“I didn’t go longer because I had enough information in my mind to move forward with the investigation,” Goll said.

Stark then presented photographs of the home, including a washing machine with a bed sheet inside and the trampoline.

“Mr. Ramirez told you that Crystal had fallen on the trampoline, but you didn’t examine it?” asked Stark.

“No, because the emotional responses of the defendants were inconsistent in this case.”

Then Caine questioned Goll.

“Do you recall a miscommunication with Ruben during the interview regarding him hitting the girls with his cane,” asked Caine.

“No, there was no miscommunication. He said he struck her and motioned with his hand to his head,” replied Goll.

During ADA Moy’s redirect, more photographs were shown to the jury of the interior of the home, including the cardboard and cloth covering the girls‘ window and a folding chair with tape knots attached to the top.

“I took the photographs first then I gathered evidence (chairs, door, tape…) with gloves on,” said Goll.

Emotional testimony

The next witness was Gonzales County Sheriff Glen Sachtleben, who spoke of when the call came in about a deceased child at the Belmont Fire Department, and seeing Crystal‘s body when he arrived.

“When the sheet was pulled back I saw an extremely emaciated child, horrifyingly so,” said Sachtleben. “Her legs were drawn up to her and the first thing I thought of was photographs of the holocaust.”

The Sheriff paused a moment, holding back some tears before he continued. “I observed scars and scabs on her wrists and ankles. There were discolorations and bruises on her arms, legs, body and face. She had red blotches on her lips.

“Her thigh was so thin that I could have probably touched my thumb and forefinger together around her leg.”

Sachtleben said Bettie approached him and said the child was her adopted daughter.

“She was pretty calm and forthright. I separated her from the scene and stepped outside the fire station. I asked her what happened here and she told me Crystal had been sick and had fallen off a trampoline,” he said.

“She explained the time frame of the trampoline accident but then she said Crystal had diarrhea and she had eaten something. Then Ruben showed up and I talked to him.”

The Sheriff said Stephanie Fehner (the Ramirez’s oldest adopted child, age 21 at the time) asked her mother if she could take the younger kids home, but Bettie said no.

“Ruben said that the girls were bad kids and that they stole medications because of their upbringing with their birth mother,” said Sachtleben. “When I asked him what medications they may have stolen, he provided a bag full of them while we were at the fire station.”

“Did he say anything to you that seemed unusual?” asked Moy.

“Yes, he said that when they adopted them they were told ‘enjoy them while you have them because they could die at anytime,” Sachtleben said. “He couldn’t tell me who had told him that, just that someone said it during the adoption process.”

“What were your impressions of Cassandra?” asked Moy.

“She was very thin, her clothes were too small, she had ragged short hair that looked like it had been cut with a razor,” he said. “I asked her if Crystal had eaten that morning and she said ‘yes, eggs.’ I noticed scars and marks on her wrists and ankles and I asked her if they played cowboys and Indians. She said they don’t play that, but they do play cops and robbers. She explained that Charlie is the cop, but that he just touches her on the arm when he catches her.”

Sachtleben said he asked Bettie why an eight year old would be wearing a diaper.

“She had an immediately angry response and said that Crystal had diarrhea and that she (Bettie) had been sick and didn’t want to carry her to the bathroom,” said Sachtleben.

At Norma’s House later that evening, he said that he spoke with Ruben Steve Ramirez about sending an officer to take inventory of the scene (at the home). “He approved but she (Bettie) was reluctant and said the house was messy. They signed the release (for the search warrant) and Ruben accompanied the officers to the house.”

“How did Charlie look?” asked Moy.

“He was 180 degrees different from the girls. He had a full, round face and looked a little chunky,” said the Sheriff. “The other adopted son, Steven, appeared to be perfectly healthy.”

Before cross examining the witness, Stark claimed that he and Caine did not have a copy of the Sheriff’s report. Hollub and Moy told the judge that they had provided it, and the judge ordered more copies of theirs.

Then Stark asked the Sheriff about his comment regarding Ramirez’s comment ’the kids could die at anytime’ as being outlandish.

“It stuck in my mind because it was so out of place with the conversation,” Sachtleben said.

“But you are not a pediatrician or specialist in fetal alcohol syndrome, are you?” Stark asked him.

“No, I am not,” he replied.

Then Caine questioned him, asking the Sheriff if he had ever dealt with the Ramirez family before.

“I was called to the property during the original case foster care because of an incident with the birth father, but I didn’t go any further than the driveway.”

Hollub redirected the witness.

“What was your impression of the home (in 2007)?” Moy asked.

“I was horrified,” said Sachtleben.

‘The most distrubing case’

The next witness was Child Protective Services Investigative Supervisor Kimberly Richter, who interviewed Cassandra and Charles Ramirez at Norma’s House, Aug. 23, 2007. Richter also investigated a report from the children‘s school, Nixon-Smiley Elementary, in 2004, stating that the girls were stealing food from other students and out of trash cans and assisted in the removal of the children from their birth parents in 2001.

“School personnel said they witnessed several occasions when the girls were eating out of trash cans,” said Richter. “Both girls were skinny and said they were being spanked on the butt by their parents with the belt.” Richter explained the state adoption policy of the agreement of no physical punishment that adoptive parents sign, because so many kids in the system come from abusive backgrounds.

“I attempted to contact the parents but when I went out to the house the gate was padlocked and there were no trespassing signs,” she said. “I left a parent’s guide and my contact information. Mr. Ramirez called me and they came to my office a few days later. Mrs. Ramirez did most of the talking. She admitted to using a belt and she said the girls were in therapy.”

“If a child has a medical concern how are they classified in the system?” asked Hollub.

“Children who have serious medical issues are hard to find homes for, but they would be categorized differently,” said Richter.

“How were the girls classified?” asked Hollub.

“They were considered ‘basic care,’” she said.

“Did you ever contact them again about the school issue?” Hollub asked.

“I attempted a home visit once more and made a recommendation to get counseling. They said the girls had behavior issues. I was concerned about Crystal’s weight and suggested that she go to a pediatrician. Other than the food and trash issues, there were no behavior issues at school,” Richter said.

Hollub asked Richter about programs the children were entitled to at no cost to the Ramirez‘s.

“The kids qualified for free lunch, medical care and the parents received a monthly stipend for each child,” Richter said.

On Aug. 23, 2007, Richter received the call that Crystal had died.

“After speaking with law enforcement we determined that a joint investigation would be done with law enforcement and CPS,” Richter said. “I was briefed on the case at Norma’s House and shown photos of Crystal before interviewing Cassie.

“She had on very dirty clothes. She was dirty, gaunt, pale and her clothes were too small for her,” said Richter. “There were small circular scars on her wrists and ankles. She was very bubbly and happy and trying to act like everything was OK - Not like she had just lost a sibling.”

Richter testified that as the 10 year old answered her questions, she could recite what Crystal had eaten for the last week, when she was walking and other details.

“We talked about her home environment and events leading up to Crystal’s death. She appeared rehearsed. It seemed abnormal to me. But when I asked her about her injuries on her arms, she was very sketchy,” said Richter.

She said that children who are being abused are coached throughout the entire period of their abuse.

“This is probably the most disturbing case of child abuse I have ever seen in my 11 years.”

Richter admitted during her testimony that CPS failed the Ramirez children.

“CPS placed them in this home, then did not visit them or remove them from the home back in 2004,” she said.

Hollub asked her about the proximity of the parents to the child during her interview at Norma’s House.

“When parents are close by during an interview, many time children won’t speak the truth out of fear, because they are going home with that person.”

Hollub asked her what types of things Cassie spoke of during her interview.

“She said she had a birthday recently, and I asked her if she had a party. She said no party or cake. She said her only present was a used deck of Old Maid cards,” Richter said. “She did have concerns about being taken away from mommy and daddy.”

According to Richter, Cassandra said Crystal had been able to walk until the Sunday before her death, and that Crystal had not been to the doctor.

“Cassie had bruising on the front of her legs, but said it was from the trampoline, barbed wire and being dragged by goats,” said Richter. “Charlie looked very healthy, chunky, no visible bruises or ligature marks, clean, his clothes fit well, and his hair was freshly cut. He was very reserved and kept saying ‘I don‘t know.’”

Stark and Caine asked Richter a couple of questions about Cassandra being an ADHD child and reviewed some pages of her CPS report.

Hollub redirected the witness.

“Is it common for two children in the same household to have the same bruise pattern?” she asked.

“No, absolutely not,” Richter replied, and agreed that taping would be a viable explanation for the bruises.

Hollub asked her about the condition of the children when they were removed from the birth parents.

“The children appeared to be healthy, not skinny or underweight,” said Richter. “I was not aware that the children had been removed from school after investigating (in 2004). That would have been a red flag.”

See Friday’s issue of The Inquirer for more testimony and continuing coverage of this trial.

Location

Pound Pup Legacy