Editor's note: Descriptions of crime in this article may be disturbing to some readers.
Gary Gene Ramirez, the Hawaii resident charged with murdering, raping and kidnapping a 15-year-old Palo Alto High School teenager 40 years ago, made his first court appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday.
Judge Hector Ramon ordered him to be held without bail for the 1982 death of Karen Stitt, 15, who was stabbed 59 times in a shrub-covered area near a Sunnyvale bus stop on Sept. 2, 1982.
Ramirez, 75, appeared in court wearing black-rimmed spectacles and a face mask. He stood in the doorway of a holding area in view of the judge. His public defender shielded him from view from the spectator gallery. He did not enter a plea.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Barbara Cathcart said that Ramirez should be held without bond because he is charged with murder with two special circumstances: murder committed during a rape and during a kidnapping, which are capital crimes. Although both are death-penalty crimes, the District Attorney's office isn't seeking the death penalty; the DA's policy is to not prosecute cases for the death penalty, she said. The seriousness of the crimes, however, warrants that Ramirez continue to be held without bail, she argued.
Ramirez is set to enter a plea on Oct. 28.
Outside of the courtroom, Cathcart said investigators are looking into similar cold cases to see if any are potentially connected to Ramirez. Her office has already received specific information regarding a few other cases since announcing his arrest, she said. Those cases are outside of the county.
"We will do everything we can to make sure items are tested for DNA and all tips are investigated. Our investigators are doing everything they can to coordinate with other agencies," she said.
Ramirez was a Fresno resident at the time of Stitt's murder and was known to frequent the Bay Area. Stitt had taken a bus from her Palo Alto home to Sunnyvale to visit her 17-year-old boyfriend on the night of her death. The two met at a 7-Eleven convenience store near the intersection of El Camino Real and Wolfe Road, across the street from the Woolworth Garden Center at 861 E. El Camino Real, at around 8 or 9 p.m., according to a court complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
After purchasing beverages at the convenience store. They walked north to the Golfland miniature golf course and then several blocks northeast to Ponderosa Elementary School. The boyfriend walked her back toward the bus stop around midnight. He left before seeing her off, however, because he was afraid he would be grounded by his parents if he wasn't home before his curfew, according to police. He last saw her walking toward the bus stop.
The next morning, her body was found behind a blood-stained cinder block wall. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 59 times, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
The identity of Stitt's alleged killer eluded police for 40 years until a tip to Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Detective Matthew Hutchison identified four brothers, one of whom was the possible killer. DNA evidence and genealogical research led investigators to Gary Ramirez, who was connected to the crime through a sample from a grandchild, according to a complaint filed with the court.
Ramirez was arrested at his home in Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 2, and he waived extradition back to the Bay Area. He was booked into the county jail in San Jose on Aug. 22, but his initial Aug. 23 arraignment was pushed to Aug. 29 after a medical issue prevented his appearance.
Cathcart said prosecutors feel they have a strong case against Ramirez.
"We did do direct DNA tests, and they exactly matched him," she said of blood found on a retaining wall at the crime scene and DNA found on Stitt's clothing.
The probability of another unrelated individual having a match to Ramirez's DNA is 1 in 24.1 septillion, she said.
"Of course, there are not that many people on the planet Earth" or on any number of other planets, she said.
Investigators also found a partial DNA profile matching Ramirez from vaginal swabs taken from the victim, she said.
Ramirez also waived his right to a speedy trial, Cathcart said. It's likely his defense team will want to do their own investigation and review the evidence through the discovery process, she said.