Serial murderer Richard Ramirez claims to be the right hand man of Satan. During the time of the Roman Empire, a carpenter named Jesus claimed to be the son of God. Many ridiculed him and others believed him. Several people, according to oral traditions, believed Jesus was simply a man who had gone mad. Others believed in him and became his followers. He was given a death sentence ordered by Pontius Pilot on behalf of the people. It seemed the majority thought that Jesus should die. There was no way to prove or disprove Jesusí assertion that he was the Son of God. There was no way in the time of Christ to come up with concrete, scientific evidence about his claim and still there is no way now to verify or refute Richard Ramirezí claim that he is working on behalf of Satan. Any Christian person who believes in God has to be open to the possibility that Richard Ramirez could be an otherworldly soul sent to us by some unseen power.
Since there is no way this claim can be denied or confirmed with absolute certainty, Ramirez can only be judged as a human being. And as such, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. If we look at Richard as only a human being, we need to understand what made him who he is today. Inherent biological and psychological traits caused Richard to commit his crimes and further research could prevent another human life from being taken by a violent killer if we lock Richard up for years of study instead of sending him to the gas chamber.
Richard was arrested for thirteen murders, five attempted murders, six rapes, three lewd acts on children, two kidnappings, three acts of forced oral copulation, four counts of sodomy, five robberies and fourteen burglaries. He was convicted on forty-six of those counts at 2:20 on September 20th, 1989, in a Los Angeles county courtroom in California. He was subsequently given the death sentence on October 3rd of that same year. At first Richard was adamant about not pleading insanity as his defense. He did not want people to believe that he was insane. He was more interested in people knowing that he was a devout Satanist, and that Satan would protect him, and watch over him.
Now, after spending many years in the appeals process, Richard has recently
decided to plead insanity, in hopes that his sentence will be overturned. This is especially profound because initially, Ramirez would not confess or deny his crimes. All of sudden, he is willing to admit guilt under the context that he was ëinsane.í
Richard was born in 1960 in El Paso Texas, to parents of meager economical means. His father, Julian Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant, and his mother, Mercedes Ramirez, a Mexican American citizen, both worked long hours every day to support their five children. Julian was an abusive parent as his father was before him. If Mercedes or any of the children did anything that Julian considered ëwrongí they were physically beaten. All of the children had medical difficulties during early childhood. These medical problems were believed to be the result of two things. First, the US Government throughout the 1950ís was conducting nuclear bomb tests in nearby New Mexico, and as it happened, the fallout from the bombs was carried by the wind to settle in El Paso, on Griseí 3
the landscape, cattle and people infecting milk, meat and water. All of the Ramirez children were born with problems ranging from respiratory difficulty to Collierís disease (an illness in which the bones grow into a curved shape, causing deformity or handicap.) Rueben, Richardís older brother was permanently disabled by this disease. Secondly, in 1959 during her pregnancy with Richard, Mercedes was working at Tony Lamaís boot factory mixing pigments and chemicals used on the boots. She was mixing chemicals such as benzene, xylene and toluene and unfortunately in that era, the toxicity of these chemicals was unknown. She gave birth to Richard on February 29th, 1960 at 2:07 am.
While in the fifth grade, Richard was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. He was having grand mal seizures in school. Other than the epilepsy Richard had ëgrown outí of his other medical ailments and was considered to be a healthy although hyper and aggressive child.
Even though Richard had four older siblings to fool around with- Joseph, Ruth, Robert and Ruben, he spent all of his time with his cousin Michael. Michael had the most influence over Richard. Michael was a Vietnam veteran who enjoyed killing and raping the Vietnamese women for his entertainment. According to Richard, when he was twelve years old his cousin Michael showed him photographs of himself raping a Vietnamese woman. Going through a sequence of detailed photographs, Richard came to the last picture. The picture was of the same rape victims severed head, held by Michael in his hand, positioned so that the victimís mouth was placed around his penis. Michael taught Richard how to hold and shoot a gun, as well as how to maneuver a knife. After a few months of Michaels return from the war and these types of outings together, one-day another tragedy finally occurred.
Richard and Michael were at Michaelís house playing billiards. Michaelís wife Jessie was very angry with her husband, a fight ensued and Michael shot her, right in front of a twelve year old Richard. He then casually told Richard to get out of there before the police arrived, and never to tell a soul what he saw. This traumatic event was locked inside Richardës mind for an extremely long time. Richard admits that he was especially sexually aroused by the photographs of the rape/murder victim that Michael showed him. He knew it was wrong to feel that way, and he couldnít talk to anyone about it without getting Michael in trouble. So Michael remained his most special confidant and teacher, until he killed himself shortly there after. Richard continued to practice shooting the gun and wielding the knife until he was arrested.
At age eighteen Richard moved to Los Angeles, where he lived on the streets and became an alcoholic and a cocaine addict. He quickly formed a camaraderie with other scandalous people and the bus station was their pseudo home. Richard spent his last dime buying a master set of keys to Toyota and Honda cars. Nightly he stole a car and drove around Los Angeles looking for houses to rob. With each robbery his skills improved and within two years he was robbing up to two homes per night. Once he became a master at burglarizing homes, he decided to up the anti. He began raping women and robbing them when he was through. Eventually Richardís behavior escalated to include torture and murder. What made him do these things?
Richard began his murder, rape and torture spree in Los Angeles. He had no modus operandi as they call it. In other words, he had not one identifying, ritualistic behavior to leave as ëhis markí from each crime scene. This made it hard for the police to catch him.
We now know that Richard acted out each crime in much the same fashion. Richard would steal a car with his master set of keys and drive around Los Angeles for hours at a time. Upon seeing a darkened house, with no shadows from streetlights or front porches, he would park his car. Next Richard would prowl around looking for an easy entrance. He usually found one in an un-locked door, believe it or not, and sometimes an open window. As this was always taking place in the middle of the night, the occupants of the homes were always asleep. Richard would peer into all bedrooms and figure out who was home. Next, he would shoot the men of the house directly in the temple, killing them instantly. This action, of course, woke the women up whom Richard would promptly tie up with whatever was available, hosiery or neckties, while he went to get the children out of their beds. Richard would repeatedly torture and rape the women in front of the children. Finally he would let them beg for their lives and rob them blind, leaving them tied up while he fled. Occasionally if a women got to be too much for him to handle, he would kill her when he was through.
The fact that Richard was capable of acting on his fantasies can be explained, to a certain degree, through science. There is a war of the sciences in trying to explain the causation of crime. I believe that both biological and psychological aspects are involved. On the biological front, one point of aggression and capability of violence comes from the Griseí 6
limbic system inside the amygdala.
ì...Among the limbic structures certain portions are inhibitory, while others appear
to contain both excitatory and inhibitory structures in close proximity. Both the
amygdala and hippocampus contain different areas that can inhibit or promote
aggression. Stimulation of the amygdala in humans can lead to fear, rage or even
direct attack.î (Glasier 413)
An epileptic seizure can be stimuli to the amygdala, thereby contributing to the causation of violence. Another biological aspect of violence is hormone related. Either a lack of hormones or ëextraí hormones or even just the improper secretion of some hormones can drastically affect a persons behavior. Debra Niehoff PhD. in The Biology of Violence, says:
ì ... Estrogen and testosterone, cortisol and thyroid hormone sweep into the anterior pituitary with an update on hormonal activity in the body, and the power to fine-tune the production and release of pituitary hormones. Similarly, the intricate vasculature of the brain ferries the hormonal messages back to the hyppothalamus, prompting adjustments in the secretion of releasing factors...... A 1976 study comparing plasma testosterone values in convicted sex offenders and non incarcerated volunteers found, as predicted, the highest levels among the most violent offenders: rapists who had also beaten, stabbed, or shot their victims.î (154)
Of course, I donít believe testosterone alone causes violence, after all everyone has testosterone. Many men take injections of testosterone to treat impotence, yet they donít just start brutally raping and murdering people. However, the secretion of an improper amount of hormone, in conjunction with a synaptic ëmisfireí in the brain and all of this meanwhile stimulating the amygdala (which could cause violence on its own) can beresponsible for a persons violent behavior. Although Richard has had some medical examinations performed, his records are currently unavailable. An anonymous source onthe Internet claims that Ramirez has unusually high testosterone levels. It is this malfunctioning of the brain (improper hormone release and synaptic misfires) that explains Richards ability to act out his crimes. For example, a man with a high level of testosterone could very well begin to torture and rape a woman. This could happen during a surge of anger, or desperation. A normal man, would be able to stop himself when he saw how badly this women was suffering. Richard enjoyed the suffering of his victims, and the suffering encouraged him to continue. There is no biological or psychological proof, but I believe Richardís malfunctioning brain causes him to temporarily lack a conscience ( his conscience is only lost during the criminal act itself). There is a place between planning the crime, and actually carrying it out in which Richardís brain is split, or missing an action. Raging testosterone and a loss of conscience equals disaster.
If Richardís mind and body were malfunctioning, than the stimulus of drugs and alcohol could only make things worse. Alcohol and cocaine affect a person both biologically and psychologically. E. Van Winkle, a retired neuroscientist from the New York University School of Medicine, believes that there is a correlation between addictions and psychiatric disorders. In his article ìThe toxic mind: the biology of mental illness and violenceî from October 2000, Dr. Winkle discusses this issue;
ìAddictions to exogenous stimulants, chemical and psychological, commonly occur with psychiatric disorders. The fact that stimulants can trigger detoxification crises provides the physiological basis for ìcraving.î It is paradoxical that the very thing that can accelerate the detoxification process is itself toxic. ...Physiologically speaking, addicts crave stimulation to initiate a detoxification crises, which gives them a ìhighî because of the increased synaptic norepinephrine. They crave sedation to terminate crises and relieve excitatory symptoms, but the sedation is followed by more excitatory symptoms during the withdrawal. That these are factors in ìcravingî is supported by the observation of therapists that addicted persons in the kind of therapy that encourages the releasing and redirecting of repressed emotions gradually lose their craving for stimulants and sedatives.î
The psychological aspects of the causation of Richardís violent crimes are many. For starters, we know that Richard Ramirez has repressed emotions. He never discussed the shooting of his cousin-in law or the sexual excitement he derived from his cousinís brutal actions. It was commonplace to be beaten in his household for doing anything wrong. So when he was young, and he needed direction for his confusing thoughts and feelings, hedidnít receive any. Repressed emotions are only one feature of the psychologicalinfluences on violent crimes. Richard had few relationships with women, and even fewer sexual relations. Perhaps he felt rejected by women and was seeking revenge. Perhaps he thought his mother was weak and resented her. His actions could be interpreted as a reaction to things like this. Although none of these things standing alone would equal a serial killer it is the combination of things that contribute to his actions.
Richardís siblings were in the same house with the same family and none of them grew up to be serial killers. So his familial background alone can not be blamed for his behavior. Thousands of children get beaten and abused and they donít all grow up to be abusive, let alone sociopaths. It is the repressed emotions in combination with obviously deviant psychological tendencies, and a need to dominate that make up Richard Ramirez. Now imagine this brain on drugs!
Psychologist A. W. Burgess, in his 1968 ì Motivational Model of Sexual Homicideî explains five psychological factors cause the perpetrator to commit the crime.
These five factors are: Ineffective social environment, Formative events, Patterned responses, Actions toward others, and Feedback Filter. This model fits Richard Ramirez in that he definitely had an ineffective social environment with both parents working outside of the home and physical abuse when they were home. A formative event does not begin to describe witnessing a murder of a cousin-in-law with no ramifications to the murderer, after admitting he enjoys the act of murder. Being taught to shoot a gun, and use a knife while being advised on how to rape women, are some extraordinary formative events. Richardís Patterned responses come from the fear of being abused by his parents, as well as witnessing the murder. Since he had no ëoutletí for his emotions he felt isolated and different form others, growing up to have an anti-social view of the world. Actions toward others- this theory is based on domination and Richard definitely dominated the women he attacked. The feedback filter explains that a killer is proud of himself and his accomplishments in private, and he is able to justify them to himself. At the same time, with each killing, he can learn from his mistakes and correct them before future ones occur. He gets really good at what he does. Burgessí descriptions mirror Richard Ramirez.
Some people believe that serial killers have no conscience all of the time. This is not true. If Richard Ramirez never had a conscience, he would not have let some of his victims live. For the most part, the victims who had small children in the house at the time of the assault were the ones who begged for their lives and lived. Their husbands were murdered, but their lives were spared. This could have been because they had children to raise or because they begged for their lives and ëhumanizedí themselves to Richard, Griseí 10
bringing him back to reality, so to speak. In other words, by humanizing themselves to Richard, they brought him back his conscience. A person with no conscience at all would not have let witnesses live. Some people, like defense attorneys for example, have suggested that a serial killer may not know that what he was doing was wrong. Again this is not true. One just has to look at the facts to see that. For example, Richard would not have lurked around in the shadows in the middle of the night if he did not believe that what he was doing was wrong. By the same token, he would not have had any problems discussing his deviant thoughts with someone close to him, if he did not believe it was wrong to think them. He would not have feared the police while he was driving a stolen car with stolen property in it, if he did not think he was wrong. Therefore, I am confident in saying that Richard- when not in the throws of a brain malfunction-knows right from wrong.
Another element to Richardís case is his belief in Satan. Richard worships Satan, and he believes that killing people and wreaking havoc on the community as a whole is a way to ensure his place at Satanís table. Richard does not use Satan as an excuse for his crimes. He has never recited the mantra ìthe devil made me do it.î He does not think that Satan ordered him to kill, rather he was just trying to impress him. Other than this desire to please a higher power, Richardís Satan worship really did not play a role in the causation of his crimes. Is he delusional? Is he a manic depressive? Simply said we wonít know unless we study him.
So the facts as they stand are this: Richard possibly had/has a biological or psychological disorder, or even a combination of the two. He knows right from wrong, and he usually has a conscience. The question then becomes, what do we do with him now?
Everyone would agree that Richard simply has to be removed from society, and he has been. But should we learn what we can from him or simply kill him? There is an age-old argument regarding the death penalty, whether it is right or wrong and both sides have strong points to argue. If we asked Richardís family whether or not he should be put to death, they would vehemently say NO! If we asked the family members of Richardís
victims some would probably say that the death penalty isnít good enough for him. After all, their relatives did not have a choice in how nor when they were going to die, why should he? But still, let them fry the bastard. Others still would say that locking him up for life would be good enough as long as there was a guarantee that he could never be let out. That last statement brings up a good point. It illustrates that our current system is not fool proof and violent offenders are being released all of the time.
Pro death penalty advocates claim that the death sentence serves as a deterrent to violent criminals but this has not statistically proven to be true. They also argue that the bible says ìAn eye for an eye.î If these people bothered to read the entire scripture that they are referencing, they would find that they had taken the phrase out of context entirely, and used it incorrectly. By the same hand, the anti death penalty activists use the phrase ìturn the other cheekî in a gross misrepresentation. If they too, continued to read on in that scripture, they would discover that what God meant (according to the mere men who wrote the bible) was that you should offer the other cheek to be slapped as well as the first one was. Not- as they use it-in a showing of forgiveness. The anti death penalty groups do have a statistically proven point in that innocent people are convicted and put to death. ì Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, seventy-five death row inmates have been found innocent and released. These former inmates had been wrongfully convicted because of various judicial glitches, including coerced confessions, false testimony, hidden evidence and lack of competent legal counsel.î (Aaron 76). There are still many who have already been put to death whom after they were gone were found to be innocent. And still others who are innocent and continue to reside on death row; being slowly tortured by thoughts of their own execution, not to mention the injustices and humiliations of being wrongfully imprisoned in the first place.
Supporters of the death penalty could also argue that if that death penalty was to beoverthrown, and prisoners who would have been put to death are instead relegated to life in prison, that these prisoners no longer have anything to lose. They could kill a prison guard or other inmates, and continually commit murder and rape without any more severe a punishment than what they already have.
Personally speaking, I cannot state with any certainty that I am either pro death penalty, or against. It is easy for those of us unrelated to victims or assailants to speculate on how we would decide the fate of the prisoner. I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel if somebody in my family was brutally raped and murdered. Nor could I imagine how I would feel if my brother was the perpetrator. I do know that if somebody I loved was a victim, I might wish for the rapist/murderer to be dead, but I would not be capable of throwing the switch myself. That being the case, how could I ask another person to do it for me? I also strongly believe that if we really want to teach people not to kill, we canít do it through killing someone else. This is like the pro-life advocates bombing abortion clinics, killing doctors and pregnant patients, in order to demonstrate that they are against what they see as murder. It is absurd!
Since there are no easy or clear answers, I propose that a new system be devised that will ensure the safety of society, as well as bring justice to those honestly guilty of heinous crimes with closure and peace to the families of the victims. First, a new legal system would have to be devised so that no innocent people are wrongfully convicted. It will begin with the state funding qualified legal assistance in capital punishment cases. (This will cost less to the state than actually inflicting a death sentence). Only qualified judges from each state shall hear violent crime cases, not traffic court judges, but criminal justices. Also, a ëlife in prisoní sentence, which currently does not mean ëlifeí will mean it! No chance of parole ever! A sentence of life in prison will be worse than the death sentence. Not all criminals can be eligible for a new program involving medical studies . It will not be based on mental competence. Currently, a plea of insanity equals a few years in a mental institution and then usually freedom. Because of this, many sane, guilty people try to plead insanity. The new system will not allow for any release. A wing or a ìblockî of a prison will be turned into a testing facility. For example, Richard Ramirez currently resides on E block in San Quentin prison in San Francisco California. Since by law, surgical examinations can not be performed, a new facility is not necessary. Research equipment can be brought into the ëblockí just as it stands now. The life sentence prisoners will be subjected to extensive studies including CAT scans, PET scans, MRI scans and EEGs. As well as regularly scheduled blood tests for determining testosterone levels. Oral evaluations with extensive questionnaires for the prisoners to answer will be formulated. The questions will have to be asked at different stages of imprisonment, with a penalty to those who refuse to answer. The questionnaires may not work, but statistically inmates seem to comply with answering questions, whether it be to clear their conscience, or an attempt to be in favor with guards, doctors, wardens, etc.
These tests will have to be performed regularly and over a long period of time for proper studies to be done. Just as there are on-site doctors at prisons now, there will also be on-site scientists to evaluate the studies. This research project will benefit all research colleges across the US, with grants for students to get hands on training via the test results of the inmates.
The inmates would also have to work for the majority of the day, doing jobs that make a wage for willing civilian companies. The wages earned will be divided seventy percent/ thirty percent. Seventy percent will go to the victimís family, to aid in the loss of income for the household. Thirty percent will go directly into the prison for maintaining research equipment and staff. The convict gets nothing. The only issue left that I cannot answer on my own, and cannot find in all of the research I have done, is how to ensure the safety of the prison guards, and doctors. The safety of the officers and medical staff has always been an issue in prisons. I suppose for any officer the element of danger is always present; however, there must be a way to make absolutely certain that safety is foremost in the planning of this death penalty alternative.
Richard Ramirez has been in prison since 1989. We have learned little if anything from him about the mind of a serial killer. He has done nothing in his eleven years of imprisonment to benefit the long list of families of his victims. Most of Richardís murder victims were the bread winners of the family, and left behind are single parents struggling to make it on their own. Richard does not have ëwork privilegesí, yet he had the right to get married while on death row to Doreen Lioy on October 3rd 1996. Because of the possibility of his sentence being overturned on appeal, Richard will not discuss any aspects of his life that would help society to learn about serial killers, possibly preventing these senseless crimes in the future. The appeals process takes years, more than twenty years in some cases, so we may never learn anything from Richard before he dies, or in a horrible nightmare gets released back into society.
Richard is still convinced that Satan will get him out of this, and he will be free one day soon. Should the death penalty be instituted, Richard is confident that he will be placed where he belongs, at the right hand of Satan, the most honorable place at Luciferís table. It is possible that Richard is the right hand man of Satan. It is also possible that Richard is ëinsaneí in both the courtroom context as well as the clinical one. It is also possible that he is just a man influenced by his biological tendencies as well as his own psychological characteristics. The tragedies that Richard Ramirez has caused cannot be erased. It is clear that society as a whole would benefit more from the study of Richardís brain, hormone levels, and daily thought patterns, as well as an income from his working, than we are by his simply sitting in a jail cell . The majority of families of victims do not agree with the death penalty. They are not interested in making other families suffer the pain they are feeling. Most families do want some kind of closure. Unfortunately they have to learn to live without it for years while the case is on appeal. I think knowing that this man is locked up for life away from society and helping to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, as well as providing a small income, is enough to bring them some small amount of peace. At least it would be better than dragging through court hearings for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps we should have learned something from the execution of Christ. If most of us had been alive then, we probably would have thought Jesus was out of his mind. As it turned out, according to our history and the fact that our entire existence is based on a time frame of Before Christ, and After Christ, I guess he was telling the truth. Whether or not you believe that he was delusional or based in reality, I think we were supposed to learn something from the experience.
There are no easy answers to all of the questions that capital punishment raises, and nobody is winning. Now it is time to try to stop these crimes before they start. We need to learn all we can from people like Richard Ramirez, instead of wasting all this time doing nothing, and ending the wasted time by committing murder ourselves.
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