A 25-year-old Rodeo man has been convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting of a marijuana dealer during an attempted robbery at the dealer’s apartment in Emeryville three years ago.
Prosecutor Tim Wellman said Anthony Ramirez planned to rob 38-year-old Chad Clarke at his apartment in the 5500 block of Beaudry Street shortly after 1 a.m. on April 20, 2008, because a criminal associate told him Clarke kept large quantities of marijuana and cash at his home and he thought Clarke would be an easy target. Instead, Ramirez wound up murdering Clarke after he discovered Clarke was armed with a gun and he was afraid Clarke would shoot him, Wellman said.
Wellman believes Ramirez, who was accompanied by three other men during the crime, is the person who fatally shot Clarke, who grew up in Indiana. But one juror believed there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ramirez was the shooter, so the jury, which deliberated for five days, deadlocked 11-1 on Monday in favor of convicting him of a clause of using a firearm to cause Clarke’s death. Such a finding would have added 25 years to Ramirez’s state prison term and resulted in a sentence of 50 years to life.
Instead, Ramirez faces 25 years to life when he’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon on Oct. 14. Wellman told jurors in his closing argument last week that Ramirez, 31-year-old Ricco Earl, who was acquainted with Clarke and knew he was a marijuana dealer, and two other men drove from Rodeo to Emeryville on April 20 so Ramirez could rob Clarke.
The prosecutor said Ramirez was armed with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson gun that Earl had bought at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in Pinole only a few weeks earlier. While the other men waited outside in a car, Ramirez went to Clarke’s apartment and got him to open his door by using a ruse in which he told Clarke someone had damaged his car, which was parked out in front, Wellman told jurors. When Clarke opened his door, Ramirez noticed Clarke had a gun, so he fired a single shot and killed him, Wellman said.
Ramirez, Earl and the other two men then fled without taking money or marijuana from Clarke’s apartment, Wellman said. Earl, one of the other two men, and two people who had visited Clarke shortly before he was killed all identified Ramirez as the shooter, Wellman said.
But Ramirez’s lawyer, Patrick Hetrick, said the prosecution failed to prove Ramirez was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and suggested Earl might have killed Clarke and framed Ramirez to avoid a lengthy prison term.
Earl testified against Ramirez but Hetrick alleged that Earl lied on the witness stand and said jurors should question his credibility. Earl was also charged with murder in connection with Clarke’s death, but Wellman said Earl pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit residential robbery two weeks ago and was promised a state prison term of 14 to 16 years in exchange for his testimony against Ramirez.
Wellman said Earl could not have been the person who killed Clarke because Earl never left the car the suspects used to drive to Clarke’s apartment. The prosecutor said Earl “had every incentive to give truthful testimony” because his plea bargain could be set aside and his murder charge reinstated if Reardon determines he lied on the witness stand.
Ramirez was arrested in Pinole in May 2009 after he dropped his cell phone outside a house he had allegedly broken into and then called his own number to find it. Officers recovered his phone when they responded to the burglary. When Ramirez called his phone, an officer who answered the phone pretended to be an ordinary citizen and arranged to meet Ramirez at a location where he ultimately was arrested after a chase.
In addition to being arrested on suspicion of burglary, Ramirez was arrested on warrants for the fatal shooting of his half brother, 17-year-old Lyle “Ryan” Valdez, in the backyard of a house in Rodeo on Sept. 28, 2008, and as a suspect in the death of El Cerrito city employee Bruce King, who was attacked at his home in El Sobrante on April 5, 2009, and died two weeks later.
However, Ramirez was never charged in either case. Contra Costa County prosecutors haven’t responded to repeated inquiries about why he never was charged. On March 4, Raymond Gardner, a 47-year-old homeless man, was sentenced to 18 years in state prison for his guilty plea to a voluntary manslaughter charge for King’s death.
Gardner also pleaded guilty to robbery, two counts of burglary, being a felon in possession of a firearm and other charges. Hetrick couldn’t be reached for comment on the verdict against Ramirez. Wellman said, “The jury came to the right decision” in convicting Ramirez of first-degree murder. He said, “Even though Chad Clarke was a marijuana dealer, he didn’t deserve to die.”
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