This 1985 file photo shows Richard Ramirez, center, know as the Night Stalker shows a pentagram on the palm of his hand in court. California corrections officials say convicted serial killer Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, has died in prison. San Quentin State Prison spokesman Lt. Sam Robinson says Ramirez died Friday, June 7, 2013. The man on the right is unidentified. (AP Photo,File)
by Don Thompson
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Ramirez, the demonic serial killer known as the Night Stalker who left satanic signs at murder scenes and mutilated victims’ bodies during a reign of terror in the 1980s, died early Friday in a hospital, a prison official said.
Ramirez, 53, had been taken from San Quentin’s death row to a hospital where authorities said he died of liver failure. Prison officials said they could not release further details on the cause of death, citing federal patient privacy laws.
Ramirez had been housed on death row for decades and was awaiting execution, even though it has been years since anyone has been put to death in California.
At his first court appearance, Ramirez raised a hand with a pentagram drawn on it and yelled, “Hail, Satan.”
His marathon trial, which ended in 1989, was a horror show in which jurors heard about one dead victim’s eyes being gouged out and another’s head being nearly severed. Courtroom observers wept when survivors of some of the attacks testified.
Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders that terrorized Southern California in 1984 and 1985 as well as charges of rape, sodomy, oral copulation, burglary and attempted murder.
The killing spree reached its peak in the hot summer of 1985, as the nocturnal killer entered homes through unlocked windows and doors and killed men and women with gunshot blasts to the head or knives to the throat, sexually assaulted female victims, and burglarized the residences.
He was dubbed the Night Stalker by the press while residents were warned to lock their doors and windows at night.
Some of the crimes were grisly beyond imagining: A man was murdered in his bed and his wife was raped beside the dead body. The killer beat a small child and attempted to sodomize him.
There were also signs of devil worship — a pentagram drawn on the wall at one murder scene and survivors’ accounts of being ordered to “swear to Satan ” by the killer.
Ramirez was finally chased down and beaten in 1985 by residents of a blue-collar East Los Angeles neighborhood as he attempted a carjacking. They recognized him after his picture appeared that day in the news media.
The trial of Ramirez took a year, but the entire case — bogged down in pretrial motions and appeals — lasted four years, making it one of the longest criminal cases in U.S. history.
Because of the notoriety, more than 1,600 prospective jurors were called.
The trial was almost aborted in its final stages when a woman juror was murdered during deliberations. Jurors were 13 days into talks when the juror failed to appear one morning. She was found beaten and shot to death at the home she shared with her boyfriend. The next day, the man committed suicide and left a note saying he killed her in an argument.
Jurors wept when they learned of the tragedy, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan was faced with one of his most trying legal challenges. Lawyers said there were no legal precedents for the situation.
Defense attorneys argued the jurors were too distraught to resume their talks and noted the murder was similar to the gruesome attacks attributed to the Night Stalker.
Tynan decided to move forward. “We must get on with the task life has given us,” he told jurors, ordering them to begin deliberations with an alternate juror.
Jurors later said the death of the juror did not influence their decision.
Tynan said Friday, “The Richard Ramirez case was the most difficult trial I ever handled. It was an experience I will never forget, and I’m glad the ordeal is over.”
After the conviction, Ramirez flashed a two-fingered “devil sign” to photographers and muttered a single word: “Evil.”