Shortly after midnight on August 10, 2008, 42-year-old Eleazar Ramirez, Jr., left his apartment in Durant, Oklahoma to get a soft drink. When he returned, the lights were on and the door was open. He saw two men and two women preparing to leave the area in a car, and later said he recognized one of them as 22-year-old Jimmy Lee Baker whom he had seen at a party the week before.
When Ramirez went into the apartment, he said a bedroom window was broken. Two stereo systems, a video game console and several compact discs were missing. Ramirez picked up his roommate, Jose Perez, at Perez’s girlfriend’s residence and they went looking for the four people he saw leaving the area.
They found Baker and the others and accused them of burglarizing their apartment. Ramirez later claimed that he was told their property was in the alley and he could pick it up, but he did not want to go back there. Instead, he called police and accused Baker and the others of theft.
After police took a report at Ramirez’s apartment and left, Ramirez cleaned up and was watching television when, at about 4:30 a.m., the door was kicked in. Ramirez said that Baker stood in the doorway and asked why Ramirez had called police. Ramirez said that when he accused Baker of the burglary, Baker came in carrying two baseball bats and took a swing with one of them.
Ramirez claimed he grabbed the bat to keep from getting hit and Baker responded by punching and kicking him. At that point, according to Ramirez, the other three people who had been in the car entered the apartment and began beating and kicking him as well. Ramirez shouted for help and his roommate came out of his bedroom, saw the melee and ran back into his bedroom, locked the door and jumped out the window.
Ramirez said Baker and the others left the apartment and hurled a bat toward a fleeing Perez, though it did not strike him. Ramirez said Baker took the other bat and smashed the windows in Perez’s car.
Four days later, Baker was arrested and charged with burglary and aggravated assault of Perez and Ramirez.
Baker went on trial in Bryan County Superior Court in April 2009. Perez could not be found, so the charge relating to him was dismissed.
Ramirez repeated his account of the evening and said that his hands had been “broke” and his face bruised, although police photographs did not reflect serious injuries and he admitted he had not sought medical treatment.
A Durant police officer testified that he responded to Ramirez’s call from the house where Ramirez had confronted Baker and the others. The officer said he searched the house and the car, but did not find anything that Ramirez said had been taken from the apartment. The officer did see two baseball bats in the car.
The bats were both recovered and offered in evidence, although police admitted they had not attempted to identify any fingerprints on the bats.
On April 27, 2009 a jury convicted Baker of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to property. He was acquitted of the burglary charge. Baker, who had three prior non-violent felony convictions, was sentenced by a jury to life in prison, the maximum sentence. His attorney did not argue that he should have received a lesser sentence even though Ramirez’s injuries were not severe and Baker’s prior convictions were non-violent felonies.
In June 2010, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court found that the prosecution failed to disclose to the defense, and the defense failed to investigate and find out, that Ramirez had previous convictions for cocaine use and delivery. At trial the prosecution portrayed Ramirez as an upstanding citizen who had lived in Durant for several years and had a full-time job. However, at the time Ramirez testified, he was awaiting sentencing on two more narcotics convictions, the court said.
The same prosecutor who handled Baker’s case was also in charge of Ramirez’s two cases, the court noted. In those cases, Ramirez agreed to plead no contest in return for a reduced sentence of seven years. The plea and sentencing was scheduled for a few days prior to Baker’s trial, but at the request of the prosecutor, the proceeding was postponed until after Baker was convicted. Ultimately, Ramirez was sentenced to five years in prison—two years less than the agreement.
In reversing the conviction, the appeals court noted that the “entire case” against Baker turned upon Ramirez’s credibility and accused the prosecution of playing “a game of hide and seek.”
“The state attempted to keep relevant information from (Baker) through the use of semantics or a play on words,” the court said. “The evidence that the state failed to disclose went directly to Ramirez’s bias, credibility and motivation for testifying.”
On December 9, 2010, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Baker and he was released from prison.
– Maurice Possley