Juveniles' life terms stir debate in Legislature
“The idea of giving Ramazzini another hearing is repulsive to me, but I will show up and argue ...”
His website states he allowed himself "to become involved in murder."
Local law enforcement officials will tell you that Nathan Ramazzini, then 16, was the instigator and primary killer in the brutal, bloody slaying of his lifelong friend Eric Ingebretsen on July 15, 1997.
Ingebretsen was 16 years old.
Now Ramazzini, who has a violent prision record, and thousands of other juvenile offenders serving sentences of life without parole are a step closer to having their prison terms reviewed with the possibility of being freed some day.
Scott Vedo, Ingebretsen's uncle, said he does not think this kind of legislation will ever work.
"I'm not opposed to anyone getting a review, but how do you take someone who has shown this level of violence, and then existed in an institution that is completely occupied with violent offenders for a number of years, and then take them out of that and expect them to behave?" Vedo said.
Vedo declined to speak directly about Ramazzini, but sees too many pitfalls with the legislation.
If it does go into law, Vedo said, the community's feelings and thoughts should weigh heavily in any decision by a court reviewing the sentences.
Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Leland Lee, D-San Francisco, last week passed the Assembly and goes back to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved.
It would then go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. He has until September to act.
"The governor does not generally take positions on pending legislation," Gareth Lacy, a spokeswoman for the governor's media office wrote in an email. It was a response to a call seeking comment.
The bill would allow offenders to seek a commuted sentence of 25 years to life with the possibility of petitioning a court for review after 15 years. The offender would still have to serve at least 25 years before being released.
The offender must also have been convicted with at least one adult co-defendant. Ramazzini, who has served 14 years, was convicted along with Leo Contreras, who was 18 at the time of the killing.
District Attorney John Poyner said he declined to seek the death penalty for Contreras, in part, because Ramazzini could not be sentenced to death and it was Ramazzini who was considered the primary killer.
"The idea of giving Ramazzini another hearing is repulsive to me, but I will show up and argue the case," Poyner said Tuesday.
One investigator with training in profiling criminals believed Ramazzini, who has a violent prison record, was uniquely evil.
"I think what was said was, 'We caught a serial murderer on the first one,'" Poyner said the day after the last piece of legislation (SB 399) was defeated.
The fact it got through this time, the district attorney said, is a reflection on the Assembly.
"This is just a shining example that the Assembly is not about law and order anymore," said Poyner.
He said the Legislature is "screwing up the judicial system."
The legislation follows the path of a recent US Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory life without parole sentencing for juveniles, calling it "cruel and unusual punishment."
"Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate. They are more likely to rehabilitate than an adult," Michael Harris, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, told the Associated Press.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, has a different perspective.
"I am disappointed in the outcome of this bill," Nielsen said in a statement.
"It should have long been left to die; instead it was brought up for a vote in the Assembly multiple times. These inmates' sentences are just sentences for the crimes they committed. Victims can forgive, but their pain and loss never go away, and the only thing they can have is justice. Through this bill, they're denying all of us justice," Nielsen added.
Ramazzini, on his website, states he does not want his life defined by the murder he committed, and has been active in getting such legislation passed.
His family also has been trying to get support in the community, but has been met with mostly disdain and horror.
Valorie Ingebretsen has called the murder of her son "a crime of rage and hate," and has vowed never to utter the name of his killer.
She has likened him to criminals such as Charles Manson.
"That's what I call him. I won't say his name."