GEORGE WEST — After sitting through three days of testimony, a Live Oak County jury convicted Sandra Ramirez of capital murder solicitation on Thursday, Jan. 9, and sentenced her to 28 years in prison and a $5,000 fine in a trial presided over by Judge Starr Bauer.
Ramirez was found guilty of plotting to kill her ex-husband, Rene Cortinas, shortly after he had been awarded joint custody of Ramirez’s and Cortinas’ son.
During closing arguments, Abner Burnett, an attorney for Ramirez’s defense team along with Joseph Stephens, asked the jury to consider giving Ramirez probation for the crime.
“If you sentence Sandra to 10 years probation — if she messes up, she starts her prison sentence then,” Burnett said. “I hope you see that is not insignificant punishment.
“The charge is awful, but what she went through means something, too. If not, whenever people come to us, we just write them off, show them the door and go back to eating our supper.”
Tiffany McWilliams, assistant district attorney and prosecutor for the state, said the case was made by law enforcement in Live Oak County and by Ramirez’s own words.
She noted that while many people get angry at times, and feel frustrated or overwhelmed, “a lot of people do not solicit capital murder.”
During previous probations, McWilliams noted, Ramirez failed or refused to comply with terms despite being given multiple chances, resulting in her probation being revoked multiple times.
She said the idea of Ramirez getting a sentenced to probation was “absurd — it cannot happen — it is not appropriate.”
Ramirez faced from five to 99 years in prison or life in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000.
McWilliams said when considering such a wide range of punishment, one of the things to consider is what the punishment would be if Ramirez had been successful in her solicitation of capital murder.
“Then she would get life in prison or the death penalty,” McWilliam said. “The defense says that because law enforcement was successful (in preventing murder) that you should give her the gift of probation.
“This cannot be the case in Live Oak County that you can attempt to solicit murder and walk away with probation.”
McWilliams said since no one was killed, she didn’t believe Ramirez should be sentenced to life in prison. She added that because Ramirez did not plead guilty, accept responsibility for the crime or express that she was sorry for committing the crime, she shouldn’t be rewarded.
“She was not scared of anything except having to face the consequences for her actions,” McWilliams said of Ramirez. “She was not looking for treatment, she was looking at what she needed to do to check the boxes and get out of jail.
“She is not deserving of a slap on the wrist for trying to have her ex-husband killed. She was perfectly fine with sending a killer to where her son lay his head at night. That is unbelievably cruel and heartless, and there has to be an appropriate punishment for trying to have his father killed.”
McWilliams asked the jury to sentence Ramirez to 30 years in prison “for the safety of the community, the intended victim and her son.”
Stephens said the trauma created by a lifetime of abuse led Ramirez to feel overwhelmed.
“What you have heard the last two days in court is the story of a woman who has been treated badly by others her entire life,” Stephens said, pointing to a pattern of sexual abuse that Ramirez said began when she was 7 and which she said continued well into adulthood.
Ramirez had testified that when she was 15 years old, her mother told her to live with Carlos Cortinas, Rene’s brother, in exchange for cocaine and for purchasing her school clothes.
Ramirez said she stayed with Carlos for several years, but did not officially consider him her husband. She later married Carlos’ brother, Rene, and later divorced him.
Although Rene had not had a consistent relationship with their son previously, Ramirez said when he was awarded joint custody of their son it made her angry.
She reportedly spoke with a mutual friend of hers and Rene’s, a man identified as Big Mike.
During testimony, Mike said that Ramirez asked him if he knew anyone who could kill Rene for her.
Mike, saying that although he was a longtime member of a gang that no one had previously asked him to kill anyone, contacted Beeville Police detective Jason Alvarez.
Alvarez testified that he put Big Mike in contact with Lance Rathke, the Live Oak County narcotics investigator. Mike then gave Rathke’s number to Ramirez, who later contacted him and reportedly discussed a way to remove Rene Cortinas from her life and her son’s life.
However, during questioning by McWilliams, Ramirez admitted that Rene had never been violent with her and that she did not consider him a threat to her son.
Stephens had testified earlier that it was not Ramirez, but Big Mike that “got the ball rolling” regarding a threat to Ramirez’s ex-husband.
Ramirez had testified that she turned to Big Mike for advice because she considered him to be like a big brother.
Mike said he contacted police because he didn’t want anyone to be killed, and that he feared that Ramirez would follow through on threats against her husband.
Ramirez later testified that she only wanted Rene Cortinas beaten up so that he would stay away from her and her son.
McWilliams noted that Ramirez did not object to the idea of a bullet being put in her ex-husband’s head as suggested by Rathke when he was working undercover, and when asked how neighbors would respond to a gunshot, said that she didn’t know and showed Rathke a picture of Rene.
Ramirez, after meeting Rathke at the Flying J truck stop outside George West, give Rathke directions to Rene’s house and said she wanted the incident involving the attack on her husband to “look like a robbery.”
When asked by Rathke if she was sure she wanted her husband to be killed, Ramirez, in the recording, stated that she was, and that she had “thought about it a long time.”
During the sentencing phase of the trial, witnesses for the defense included Adryanna Cortinas, 17, Ramirez’s daughter, and Chris Luna, a former George West High School principal who is in the process of adopting two of Ramirez’s daughters.
When Stephens asked Adryanna what she wanted for her mother, she said that she wanted her to receive treatment.
She said she regretted not having a relationship with her father, Carlos Cortinas, before he died in prison, and that she wanted to have contact with her mother.
“Just not a bad person — she’s not all bad,” Adryanna said.
“I want for her to be happy, out of jail, with her family and to see us all the time. I want for her to be able to hug me and tell me she loves me right now.”
Luna, who was a deacon at St. George Catholic Church when he lived in George West, now resides in San Marcos with his wife and two of Ramirez’s daughters.
“I first met Sandy when she was 14 and a freshman at George West High School,” Luna said, adding that he knew she was a troubled youth before she dropped out of high school.
Luna, who is involved in prison ministries, said he re-established contact with Ramirez when she was booked into the Live Oak County Jail.
“Sandra asked if my wife and I would consider taking in two of her daughters,” Luna said. “She was trying to give them a good life.”
Luna and his wife have been raising the girls, who are now 9 and 10, for eight and a half years, he said.
He added that Ramirez did not have a stable home life, saying “she needs treatment for her demons ... she needs a good strong program that will help her recognize how to beat those demons.
“Deep down inside her, there is a good heart. She does have a deep love for her children ... and her family. She does have a heart for people that is well worth salvaging.”
Luna said while he and his wife are providing a stable home life for Ramirez’s youngest daughters, with a focus on giving them an education, moral values, teaching them about God and to pursue hobbies such a music lessons.
“They are bright little girls,” Luna said.
He added that he is making sure that the girls continue to have a relationship with Ramirez’s and Cortinas’ son.
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or firstname.lastname@example.org