Calif. officer's killer accused of threatening others with retaliation

By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle
Read Chuck Remsberg's Protecting yourself and your family from retaliation

NEWARK, Ca. — A Newark man convicted this month of murdering a San Leandro police officer in 2005 threatened to kill a Newark police officer four years earlier, according to testimony presented Tuesday to a jury that will decide whether the killer will be sent to Death Row.

Irving Ramirez, 25, could face the death penalty or life in prison for fatally shooting Officer Nels "Dan" Niemi, 42, who was the subject Tuesday of tearful remembrances by his colleagues and family on the first day of the penalty phase of Ramirez's trial.

On May 10, a jury convicted Ramirez of first-degree murder, along with enhancements for firing a weapon and two special circumstances: killing a police officer and killing to avoid arrest.

Newark police Officer Karl Geser testified Tuesday that a drunk Ramirez threatened to kill "me, my family and my kids" after he arrested him for being intoxicated in April 2001. "He was staggering as he was walking and swaying as he stood," Geser said.

Struggling to maintain his composure, San Leandro police Officer Curt Barr recalled from the stand how fellow Officer Cathy Pickard called him the night of July 25, 2005, when Niemi was killed near Doolittle Drive and Belvedere Avenue.

At Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, "I just stood over my friend," Barr said. "Mostly, I prayed over him." As Barr spoke, tears rolled down the face of Pickard, sitting in the courtroom gallery in her uniform.

After Niemi's death, his daughter, Gabrielle, then 6, happened to see Barr at one point when his features were obscured in shadow and remarked, "You look just like my daddy," Barr testified. "That hurt, because she wasn't going to see her daddy anymore."

Former San Leandro police Officer Mario Marez said he is racked with remorse for assuring Niemi's wife, Dionne, that Niemi would be relatively safe on the job and that the "odds are very, very slim" that he'd be hurt.

Alameda County's top prosecutor, District Attorney Tom Orloff, asked Marez if he felt any guilt.

"Yes, I do. The only one person who can stand in my shoes is me," Marez said. "I know I shouldn't have it, but it's there. I'm so sorry," he said, breaking into sobs as he looked at Dionne Niemi who, along with the slain officer's mother, Mildred Niemi, also testified Tuesday how Niemi's slaying had devastated them.

Deborah Levy, one of Ramirez's attorneys, told jurors that her client committed a "heinous, monstrous crime, but he is not a heinous, monstrous person. I submit to you that the death penalty is reserved for the worst."

Levy was cut off by Orloff, who objected on the grounds that the defense attorney was making an argument, which is prohibited during opening statements. Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson agreed. Levy concluded, "Mr. Ramirez is not the type of individual worthy of a sentence of the death penalty."

Orloff rested his case Tuesday; the defense will begin calling witnesses in the penalty phase today.

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle


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