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Man claims innocence while deciding between a plea deal or trial

By Gheni_Platenburg
Dec. 15, 2010 at 6:15 a.m.
Updated Dec. 16, 2010 at 6:16 a.m.

Jonathon Ramirez

Jonathon Ramirez has 20 more days until he will be forced to make one of the biggest decisions of his life - take a 10-year plea deal or go to trial.

Ramirez, 18, faces charges of second-degree felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree felony engagement in organized criminal activity in connection with the shooting of 19-year-old Johnathan Paul Escalona in the 300 block of East Power Avenue back in March.

"I can't prove any of what happened," said Ramirez, who said he was leaning toward taking the deal despite his claims the shooting was done in self-defense.

Jan. 4, Ramirez decides on the plea-deal offered to him by the Victoria County District Attorney's Office or faces trial and up to 20 years in prison if he is found guilty.

"(My attorney) keeps saying I'm lucky to get 10 years for this," said Ramirez. "I think they are just doing it because they are judging me because I was a gang member in the past."

Mary Estrada, Escalona's mother declined to comment, and Escalona, who remains paralyzed from the waist down and in need of constant care, could not be reached for comment.

"We have no doubt as to who did the aggravated assault that led to Escalona's paralysis," said District Attorney Steve Tyler. "You cannot claim self-defense if you come to an argument with a gun."

Tyler added, "We believe the deal is gracious given the facts."

Ramirez is charged with firing a Taurus 9mm semi-auto pistol at Escalona, striking him with one bullet to the neck, according to the arrest report.

But Ramirez claimed there was more to the story than what was written in the arrest report.

About 3:30 a.m., Ramirez said he and a friend went to a home on East Power Avenue at the behest of his ex-girlfriend, who claimed she needed a ride home.



Upon his arrival, Ramirez said he was surprised to encounter not only his ex, but also her new boyfriend and the new boyfriend's fellow Southside Sureno gang members.

Ramirez said the group of at least 15 men, which included Escalona, surrounded the GMC Sierra truck that Ramirez and his friend were in and initiated a fight.

It was during that brawl that Ramirez said Escalona put a gun to his head, prompting Ramirez to grab a gun that was inside the truck and shoot his attacker.

"I went down, closed my eyes, raised the gun and shot one time," said Ramirez, who admitted he had been drinking that night.

Ramirez, who escaped with little injury, and his friend, who got his tooth knocked out during the fight, escaped.

Ramirez said he listened to the police scanner broadcasts after escaping and became distraught over the possibility that he had seriously injured Escalona.

"I almost shot myself," he said quietly.

From the beginning, Ramirez said no one was interested in hearing his side of the story; instead, they believed Escalona's claims that Ramirez was the only one with a gun.

He thinks the lack of desire to consider his side of the story all stems back to his not-so-innocent past.

Admittedly, Ramirez, who was known by many people as "Lil Soldier," said he had a juvenile record, which included family violence, probation and at least three stints in Victoria's Juvenile Detention Center.

However, he claimed to have turned over a new leaf in 2008 when he quit the Cliqua Los Primos Surenos street gang after four years of membership.

Since then, the soon-to-be-father said he has covered up his gang tattoos, found employment as a house painter and has taken steps to get his GED.

"I was looking forward to bettering my life," said Ramirez, who said the brawl with Escalona was just one of several incidents he has had to deal with since quitting the gang lifestyle and one of four he and other family members have experienced in retaliation to the March shooting.

"I'm not saying he's perfect or has never been in trouble, but he's not to blame for this," said the defendant's mother, who asked not to be named for safety reasons. "For defending himself, he has to pay the consequences of his own life being taken."

She continued, "I don't think it's fair. I know Steve Tyler wants gang members off the street, but you don't go after one that is trying to change his life and was just defending himself."

The defendant's mother is serving three years probation on federal charges for providing her son with the gun, which was later used to shoot Escalona.

"We don't want to criticize the district attorney. We just basically want him to look at the point that just because we're not the victims, they keep coming after my family, and nothing is being done."

Jonathan Ramirez's attorney Alex Luna declined to comment on his client's case.

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