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Edward Ramirez

Other Philadelphia Exonerations
On February 20, 1995, police found Joyce Dennis’s body in the back office of the Fabric Care Center laundromat where she worked in northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dennis was a newlywed, and her husband reported her missing when she didn’t come home after her shift ended at 2 a.m. Police found blood throughout the laundromat—on the handle and door into the office, on the inside deadbolt of the back door, and the floor of the dry-cleaning room. The back door was unlocked, its deadbolt extended so that the door could not close. Police also found a blood-stained white fleece jacket liner and a torn men’s black jacket with blood spots.

An autopsy later said that Dennis, who was 40 years old, had been hit in the head at least nine times. The police said that the murder weapon was a metal bar which was found inside the back office and, according to employees, had been there for years. Near the vending machines, the police found a wood-handled broom with blood stains.

Ernest Manger, the laundromat’s owner, told police that there would normally be about $1,000 in paper currency at the business on a Sunday night. The office typically remained locked, he said, and the back door was locked around 8 p.m. Dennis normally locked the front door at around 12:30 a.m., but would let in customers during operating hours.

On February 24, police interviewed Jay Darnell, an employee at the laundromat, who lived across the street. Darnell said that on the night of the crime, he had been at his house with his wife, children, and some of his children’s friends, including 18-year-old Edward Ramirez. He said that around 11 p.m., he sent his 20-year-old daughter, Mary Emmanuel, to get some milk and a soda. She returned between 11:15 and 11:30, and told her father that it was actually Ramirez who had gotten the soda, over at the laundromat.

“Mary said that Eddie had gone over to the laundromat to get my cream soda and he had seen Joyce and she was all right,” Darnell said.

At some later point, Ramirez and the other friends of his children left the house, Darnell said.

Police also interviewed Emmanuel on February 24. She confirmed that she had sent Ramirez to the laundromat to get a soda. She said he was gone for about 15 minutes and told her on his return that it had taken a while because he had flirted with a girl there named Joanna and gotten her telephone number. When they talked the next day, after Dennis’s body had been found, Emmanuel asked Ramirez whether he had seen anything fishy at the laundromat. “He said ‘No, just Joanna and some goofy blonde lady,’ he said he guessed she worked there,” Emmanuel said.

Emmanuel said the other young men at her house on the night of February 19 were 18-year-old William “Billy” Weihe and Pete Gozzi.

Police interviewed Joanne Esquilin on March 6, and she confirmed Emmanuel’s account of her encounter with Ramirez. (Separately, police later interviewed Ann Thompson, who said that Dennis helped her put her clothes in her car when she left the laundromat at 12:30 a.m. “I stayed until I saw that she locked the door,” Thompson said.)

Police interviewed Weihe on March 1, and he gave a statement implicating Ramirez in the robbery and murder. He then recanted that statement. A month later, on April 11, police interviewed Weihe a second time. Again, he implicated Ramirez and then recanted his statement.

On March 17, police picked up 15-year-old Sara Hurd and took her to police headquarters, known as the “Roundhouse,” and questioned her without an adult present. Hurd said that after the police first contacted her, she asked Ramirez about the murder, and he told her that he had simply gone over there to get a soda that night while Weihe waited outside. She was asked if Ramirez told her whether the laundromat was open or closed. “He didn’t say, but if he got a soda, it had to be opened,” Hurd said. She would later say in an affidavit that the police screamed at her and threatened to take away her baby and to charge her with hiding evidence.

On March 20, police interviewed 15-year-old Luis Rivera. He said that about a week after the murder he was at Hurd’s house when Ramirez showed up and asked him if he had heard about what happened. Rivera said he hadn’t. According to Rivera’s statement, Ramirez said that “him and Billy Weihe went to do a stickup and he (Eddie) hurt the lady and that the lady died.”

Police brought Hurd back in for questioning on March 22. This time, she was joined by an attorney from the public defender’s office. Hurd said neither she nor Rivera ever heard a confession from Ramirez.

In October, a grand jury was empaneled to investigate the case. It heard from Gozzi, Emmanuel, and her two brothers. Gozzi said he drove Ramirez and Weihe from Parnell’s house to Weihe’s house about 1 a.m. Emmanuel testified that the police placed her and Weihe in the same room on February 28, and that Weihe told her the police had pressured him to make a false statement against Ramirez. “He said the police told him if he didn’t ... tell them Eddie Ramirez’s involvement in this he was going to go to jail for life, okay?” she testified.

The investigation appeared to stall until late April 1996, when police interviewed a drug dealer named Corey Watkins. He said that just after the murder, 17-year-old Joseph Maio told him that Weihe had said that “Billy killed the lady at the laundromat.” Watkins said he saw Weihe about two days later, when he tried to use a bunch of change to buy drugs. Watkins said he didn’t hear anything about Ramirez being involved in the crime.

On May 1, 1996, the detectives re-interviewed Melanie Foreman, who was Watkins’s girlfriend and also a drug dealer who knew many of the young people police had spoken with. Foreman had said in previous statements that she did not know anything about the murder, but on May 1, she was facing two state drug charges and three federal gun and drug charges.

Foreman said in the May 1 statement that Ramirez told her around three days after the murder that he committed the crime with Weihe and another young man named Thomas “T.A.” Dennis (no relation to Joyce Dennis). She said that Ramirez confessed while she, Dennis, Ramirez, and Hurd were smoking PCP in Hurd’s basement. “He said that he got $250 from the lady, but that at first the lady didn’t want to tell him where the money was,” Foreman said. “He said that he started hitting her, and she finally gave up the money. Eddie said that ‘T.A.’ stayed outside and Billy Weihe went into the laundromat to get a soda.” She said that Dennis later admitted to her that he served as the lookout.

Police had interviewed Joseph Maio in June 1995. He said then that he didn’t know anything about Dennis’s death and that he and T.A. had been hanging out with Ramirez and Weihe earlier in the evening on the night of the crime. He said they split up after a transportation snafu, and Maio didn’t see them the rest of the night.

On June 19, 1996, police re-interviewed Maio. In this statement, he said that he was at Hurd’s on the night of February 19, no later than 11:30, when Weihe and Ramirez showed up and told him what had happened at the laundromat.

“When they got to Sara’s house,” Maio said. “I was in the kitchen with Sara. Eddie, Billy and ‘T.A.’ walked in together, and Eddie patted his pants pockets. Both of his pockets were loaded with change. You could hear all the change as he walked. Eddie said, ‘Look what I got.’ He told me and Sara that ‘We stopped at the laundromat, we just got paid.’”

T.A. was never charged. His statements to police tracked Maio’s earlier statement; they lost track of Weihe and Ramirez early in the evening and never went to Hurd’s that night.

A young woman named Kristina Smith told police on June 27, 1996, that she was at the party at Hurd’s house and heard that Ramirez, Maio, T.A., and Joseph McDevitt Jr. had committed the robbery. The police interviewed McDevitt a week later, on July 2, 1996, confronting him with Smith’s statement. McDevitt said in a statement that he had been at Hurd’s house, looking to sell some marijuana, when Ramirez, Weihe, and Dennis arrived. He overheard them in the kitchen, talking to Maio about how they had to kill some woman and had “just got paid.”

Police brought Weihe in for questioning on July 3. Now, the detectives read Weihe his Miranda rights, and he gave a statement that said Ramirez robbed the laundromat and had Weihe serve as a lookout. Weihe said that the door was open, as Ramirez walked right in. He said he saw Ramirez hit Dennis in the head with something after she refused to give him the money. After the robbery, Weihe said, they went to Hurd’s house and bought drugs. Weihe said Ramirez’s pants were weighed down from all the coins he had stolen from the laundromat.

Weihe was arrested later that day, and Ramirez was arrested July 4, 1996. Both were charged with murder, robbery, and criminal conspiracy.

Ramirez’s jury trial in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, presided over by Judge Paul Latrone, began in December 1997. Weihe had agreed to testify against Ramirez and would be allowed to plead guilty to third-degree murder. Jack McMahon represented Ramirez.

At trial, Manger testified about the laundromat’s operations. He said the attendants didn’t handle a lot of coins; customers got quarters from change machines on the wall. Those machines weren’t damaged, he said, and the money stolen from Dennis was paper currency.

Weihe testified that Ramirez robbed the laundromat and beat Dennis to death. He said Ramirez first broached the idea a few hours after they had gone to the laundromat to buy Darnell a soda. Weihe said that Ramirez left the laundromat after the robbery through the front door and that he could hear all the loose change jingling in his pockets. He also said there was a spot of blood on one of Ramirez’s boots.

Weihe’s testimony was at odds with other testimony and evidence. First, he said that Ramirez entered the building without knocking. Second, Weihe said Ramirez never entered the back office of the laundromat where the pipe used to kill Dennis had been kept. He testified that Ramirez beat Weihe with a shorter, black stick and didn’t use the broom. Third, he testified that Ramirez didn’t use the back door, which was unlocked and had blood on the handle. He also testified that Ramirez was loaded down with coins from the robbery, which was at odds with the owner’s testimony about how cash was handled at the business.

Maio also testified that Ramirez’s pockets were so heavy with change that you could hear the money as he walked. Maio testified that he heard Ramirez say that he and Weihe decided to rob the laundromat after they went in there to buy a soda and saw Joyce Dennis with bags of money. Maio also said that Ramirez and Weihe arrived at Hurd’s house before midnight.

Foreman testified that Ramirez admitted his involvement in the robbery-murder the next day, after she asked him if “he robbed the lady.” This differed from her statement, which said that Ramirez confessed to her a week after the murder. After trial, Ramirez’s defense learned that Foreman was cooperating with the federal government on other cases when she gave her initial statement against Ramirez. Rivera testified that he heard Ramirez confess to the crime at Hurd’s house.

Detective William Gross testified about the crime scene, including the location of blood in the office. He said there was no blood in the main laundry area, although blood was found on the metal pipe and the fleece liner. Gross testified that the back door needed a key to lock and unlock and that Dennis’s keys were never found. He also testified that Dennis’s cleaning supplies were out, suggesting that she had begun her closing procedures at the end of her shift.

Dr. Gregory McDonald, an assistant medical examiner, testified that Dennis had received at least nine blows to her head. She also had defensive wounds on her left hand and facial injuries consistent with being punched. McDonald testified that Dennis’s time of death was likely between 11:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. He said that the extent of Dennis’s wounds did not necessarily mean that her assailant would be covered in blood.

Ramirez did not testify. A young woman named Brooke Williams testified that she was at Hurd’s house on the night of the murder and no party took place. Hurd also testified that the party at her house was the night before, and that she never heard Ramirez say he had anything to do with the crime.

Although Hurd testified that the police pressured her to make a statement against Ramirez, she was not asked for details about the tactics she would later say the police used.

Darnell testified that Ramirez and his friends left his house about 1 a.m. on the morning of February 20. He also said that it was standard practice to lock the front door to the laundromat late at night.

Edward Ramirez Sr., a retired Philadelphia police officer, testified that he had given his son permission to spend the night at the Darnell residence on February 19. He said Eddie came home the next day wearing the same clothes. A few days later, when he learned the police wanted to speak to his son, he examined his clothes and boots, looking for blood. He testified that he found none.

In closing arguments, McMahon said there was no physical evidence—including fingerprints collected at the crime scene—connecting Ramirez to the crime. He also said the state’s witnesses were unreliable and its timeline of events didn’t make sense.

The prosecutor said Weihe and the other witnesses were credible. The idea that Dennis’s assailant would have been covered with blood was “movie talk,” he said. He also said it was “common sense” that large amounts of change were kept at the laundromat.

At trial, Weihe had testified that after he and Ramirez were arrested, the police placed them in the same cell. Ramirez did not confront his accuser. The prosecutor said in his closing argument that this silence was telling.

“In the law, there is something called tacit admission,” the prosecutor said. “An admission is what Weihe did on himself, [he] spoke, he put it on himself and he said he wanted to tell. Sometimes not speaking when you should speak is as much of an admission when someone accuses you of doing something that you didn’t do. You don’t even defend yourself. Like when my wife came in and said, ‘Did you eat the last piece of cake,’ and I know I did, I don’t bother to deny it because my tacit admission, my silence definitely says everything.”

McMahon did not object, but Judge Latrone ordered the jury to disregard that statement. “The concept of tacit admission in criminal law is not an acceptable one,” he said.

In addition, the prosecutor said that Ramirez and his family should have cooperated with the investigation and given the police evidence to help clear Ramirez. McMahon objected, and Judge Latrone told the jury that Ramirez had no duty to present evidence.

The jury began deliberations on December 30, 1997 and delivered its verdict on January 2, 1998. Although Ramirez had been charged with first-degree murder, the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy. He was later sentenced to life in prison.

Weihe received a sentence of five to 15 years in prison.

After his conviction, Ramirez began a series of appeals through the state and federal courts.

On April 16, 2001, Ramirez filed a motion for a new trial, challenging both his conviction and his sentence. The motion was later amended after Ramirez’s appellate attorneys learned that scrapings from under Dennis’s fingernails had been collected by the medical examiner. Although the police knew about this evidence, it had not been disclosed to McMahon. A judge ordered testing on the samples. In 2003, the laboratory that conducted the testing told Ramirez’s attorneys that he was excluded as a contributor to the genetic material from one of the nail scrapings. The other clipping lacked a sufficient amount of male DNA for comparison. The motion also asserted that McMahon had been ineffective in his representation, failing to investigate and call witnesses, and not objecting to the state’s comments about Ramirez’s post-arrest silence.

After several rounds of evidentiary hearings, a judge in the Court of Common Pleas denied Ramirez’s motion on January 27, 2006. He later reversed course on the question of McMahon’s effectiveness, but on August 30, 2011, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the convictions.

On October 5, 2012, Ramirez filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It reasserted many of the claims from the state motions, including the failure to disclose the existence of the fingernail scrapings and the claim of ineffective representation by McMahon.

A federal judge denied the petition on September 11, 2014, accepting the recommendations of a federal magistrate judge who said that the absence of Ramirez’s DNA from the fingernail clippings was inconsequential. “There is no reasonable probability that had this evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different,” the magistrate wrote. “The mere possibility that the analysis of Mrs. Dennis’ fingernail [scrapings] might have helped the defense does not establish materiality in the constitutional sense.”

After the federal court ruling, Michael Wiseman began representing Ramirez. He was later joined by Nilam Sanghvi of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Ramirez filed a new state petition for post-conviction relief on November 30, 2015. The motion contained recantations from Rivera, McDevitt, Watkins, and Foreman.

Rivera said that the police yelled at him and hit him on the head and threatened to charge him as an accessory if he didn’t implicate Ramirez. Rivera said the prosecutor went over his statement prior to trial and told Rivera that he would get charged with perjury if his testimony didn’t match up with the statement. Rivera also said the prosecutor coached him to say that Ramirez had glassy eyes when he confessed to the crime at Hurd’s house. “Everybody knows that if Eddie really did it, he never would have confessed to me, a 15-year-old he didn’t even know,” Rivera said in an affidavit. “I think that’s why they wanted me to add the part about him having glassy eyes.”

McDevitt said in his affidavit that the police held him for hours and threatened to charge him with robbery and murder. He said he knew Ramirez and Weihe but didn’t hang out with them. He said the police kept trying to get him to say that Ramirez used a bunch of change to buy marijuana from him. He told the police that wasn’t true. McDevitt said he didn’t even like taking dollar bills because his wad would get too noticeable. “There was no way I’d accept payment in coins,” he said.

McDevitt said that an assistant district attorney contacted him about a year after he gave his statement. By then, McDevitt said, he was off PCP and had a job. He said he was ashamed of the false statement he made against Ramirez. When he called the prosecutor back, he told her that his statement was a lie, and he recounted the methods the police used to get him to make the statement. “She told me she didn’t think they would need my help and I never heard from the cops or the district attorney’s office again,” McDevitt said.

Watkins and Foreman told an investigator working for Ramirez that police pressured them to falsely implicate Ramirez. Watkins said the police held him for hours until he signed a statement. Foreman said the police threatened to charge her as an accomplice. Neither signed an affidavit.

Maio had died in 2011, but three of his friends said in affidavits that Maio had told them prior to Ramirez’s trial that his statement was false. One friend said that Maio said the police threatened to charge him with an unrelated stabbing if he didn’t implicate Ramirez.

The motion said that the state had failed to disclose the threats and pressures the police used to extract statements from witnesses and to help witnesses, such as Rivera, shore up their testimony.

The motion said that Weihe was also a victim of these tactics. “Police misconduct caused Weihe to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit in order to save himself from a death sentence or life imprisonment,” the motion said.

In 2016, Ramirez’s attorneys filed a motion for DNA testing on additional items from the crime scene, including the broom, the fleece liner, and the metal pipe. The Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office did not oppose the request. No conclusive DNA could be pulled from the broom, but the testing found the same male DNA on the pipe and the fleece. Ramirez was excluded as a contributor.

Ramirez amended his petition twice more. First, he included evidence of misconduct by Detective Paul Worrell in an earlier murder investigation that contributed to the wrongful conviction of Willie Veasey (hyperlink). Although not the lead detective, Worrell took statements from Rivera, Hurd, Maio, and Weihe.

Second, after a more rigorous review of the prosecutor’s files by Ramirez and the district attorney’s office, Ramirez amended the motion to include additional claims of undisclosed evidence. These included:
  • Evidence relayed to the police by an investigator with the Office of the Medical Examiner that the fight between Dennis and her assailant would likely have left the attacker with blood on his hands and clothes. McDonald told a detective that Dennis’s tooth was knocked out and that she had three facial injuries consistent with punches, Neither the autopsy report nor his testimony mentioned the missing tooth. In addition, police notes said the crime scene had significant blood spatter, and the police contacted local hospitals for lists of trauma patients treated the day of the murder.
  • A police activity sheet detailing an interview with Weihe made no mention of coins being stolen. The detective asked Weihe only about paper money. This undercut the state’s assertion in closing arguments that common sense dictated that the laundromat was awash in loose change.
  • In the spring of 1996, the police considered using a female confidential informant as a way to get Weihe to talk about the murder.
  • Several witnesses told the police that two brothers with a history of criminal behavior were involved in the murder. Thompson had told the police that one of the brothers looked like a man she saw hanging out at the laundromat while she was doing her wash on the night of the crime. He made her so nervous that she went to her car and got a knife.
In its response on August 1, 2023, the district attorney’s office agreed that the state had failed to disclose significant exculpatory evidence to Ramirez’s attorney that would have helped his defense.

“The Commonwealth takes no position here on whether Ramirez is guilty or innocent of this heinous crime, only on the fairness of his trial pursuant to its constitutional obligations,” the response said. “After an exhaustive and careful review, and considering all the suppressed evidence in light of the record as a whole, including new DNA evidence and consistent allegations of police misconduct, the Commonwealth must conclude that the outcome of Ramirez’s trial is unreliable and that justice requires he receive a new one.”

The response did not address the witness recantations or the results of the DNA testing. It also did not address the claims of police misconduct beyond Worrell’s history of misconduct, which could have been used to challenge the testimony of Weihe and Rivera about their interviews with the police.

On November 2, 2023, Judge Scott DiClaudio granted Ramirez’s motion for a new trial.

“The relief granted today is an acknowledgement that Mr. Ramirez’s rights were violated, that he did not receive a fair trial, and that had certain information not been suppressed by police and prosecutors at the time, that the jury might well have reached a different conclusion,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner. “We must also acknowledge the pain and trauma that Joyce Dennis’s loved ones have endured these many years. The criminal legal system also badly failed the victim of a horrendous violent crime and their loved ones.” He called for the police to reopen the investigation.

On November 30, 2023, the state dismissed the charges against Ramirez, and he was released from prison.

“I feel like I can breathe,” said Sue Ramirez, his sister. “I feel like I can breathe again. You know what our family went through? It’s like holding your breath.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/11/2023
Last Updated: 12/11/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1995
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes