A Utah man who set his mother on fire outside her Indio workplace was convicted Monday of first-degree murder, opening him to a possible death sentence.
Israel Ramirez Guardado, 38, of Salt Lake City, doused his mother in gasoline then used a lighter to set her ablaze in January 2018. His mother, 61- year-old Francisca Ramirez of North Shore, suffered second- and third-degree burns and died almost three weeks later after developing acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with her injuries, according to Deputy District Attorney Joshua Hill.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour before reaching their verdict.
In addition to convicting Guardado of murder, jurors found true two special circumstance allegations -- lying in wait and inflicting torture during the commission of a murder -- making him eligible for the death penalty. The penalty phase of his trial, in which jurors will recommend a sentence of death or life in prison without the chance of parole, will begin Thursday.
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During his closing argument to the jury Monday, Guardado, who acted as his own attorney, maintained a tone he set during opening statements almost three weeks ago -- putting unwavering trust in the jury's judgment.
"It is totally up to you guys,'' he said. "... Whatever (you) think I should get, I'm fine with it.''
Hill, in his closing argument, weaved together Guardado's Facebook posts to paint a narrative of pre-mediated murder framed around a disagreement between Guardado and his mother over the custody of Guardado's oldest daughter.
Ramirez was helping raise the girl at the time, Hill said. Some of the Facebook posts originated during the month of the attack.
"Times up... I'm coming for you,'' the defendant wrote on Jan. 1, 2018, an apparent threat that prosecutors allege was directed at his mother.
On Jan. 19, 2018, he wrote, "I'm back in Kali and I'm ready to do whatever it takes to clear my ... keep watching this won't go past Wednesday, just ask my mom,'' according to court documents.
In his opening statement, Hill said that after the defendant set fire to his mother he went to the Indio jail to surrender, telling an employee, "I came to turn myself in. I just set a woman on fire.''
During his closing remarks, which lasted about 45 seconds, Guardado neither confirmed or denied the charges against him, although he did mention his daughter.
"The (Riverside County District Attorney's Office) will have you say that I'm doing it for my kid,'' he told the jurors, "but then again, what wouldn't we do for our children?''
During the trial, jurors were shown video footage from an Indio police officer's body-worn camera showing the victim walking toward the officer in the loading dock area of the Mathis Brothers furniture store on Highway 111 on Jan. 6, 2018, at about 5:50 a.m.
She was speaking in Spanish with her co-workers behind her translating. Several of her co-workers testified during the trial to seeing somebody light Ramirez on fire that day, but none of the men could point to Guardado as the man responsible.
According to the prosecutor, the victim's co-workers used jackets and sweaters to smother the flames.
Ramirez was taken to JFK Medical Center in Indio, but she was later moved to the burn unit at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. Prosecutors said doctors attempted skin grafts and other procedures, but they ultimately proved unsuccessful. Ramirez's organs began to fail and she became unable to absorb oxygen from a ventilator. She was taken off life support and died Feb. 25.
Guardado, who is being held without bail at the Indio Jail, has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.