SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – The murder suspect who sparked a national controversy over San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy was not even an illegal immigrant, according to the defense attorneys of Edwin Ramos, the MS-13 gang member accused of killing three members of the Bologna family in San Francisco back in 2008.
Jury selection began in Ramos’ trial Tuesday morning in Department 25 at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice.
Ramos, a 24-year-old El Sobrante resident, is charged with fatally shooting Tony Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, near Maynard and Congdon streets June 22, 2008.
Ramos was in court Tuesday morning as Judge Charles Haines dismissed potential jurors who said they had hardships that prevented them from serving during the trial, which is expected to last for months.
Outside the courtroom during a lunch break, Ramos’ attorney, Marla Zamora, told reporters that the national publicity surrounding his case was all in error, given that her client had papers all along that allowed him to be in the United States.
“That [accusation] was completely wrong because he did enter the country legally on a 10-year visa,” Zamora said. “That whole sanctuary thing was for naught.”
“This kid was legally in the country,” she added. “His visa was due to expire, I believe, in June of 2010.”
Zamora said there are about 1,300 people in the juror pool for the case, and prosecutors said it could take a few weeks to select a jury.
“This is a case that brings a lot of emotions,” District Attorney George Gascon told reporters at a briefing in his office Tuesday.
The Bolognas had been driving from a family picnic in Fairfield to their home in the Excelsior when they came upon another car, allegedly driven by Ramos.
A surviving son testified at Ramos’ preliminary hearing in 2009 that he saw Ramos flash a gun from inside the partly opened window of the other car and begin “mugging” at them before shots were fired.
Ramos, a member or the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Sureño street gangs, has admitted to driving the car but told investigators that another man inside the car fired the shots.
KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:
Two other alleged MS-13 gang members had been wounded in a shooting in the Mission District earlier that day, and prosecutors have speculated that the Bolognas were mistaken for rival gang members.
Ramos was charged with three counts of murder and multiple special allegations. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The murders made national headlines because of the city’s sanctuary policy, which required that undocumented juvenile offenders not be reported to federal immigration authorities.
Ramos had numerous contacts with San Francisco police for drug and violent crimes as a juvenile, but was not reported to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Gayle Gutekunst, another attorney representing Ramos, said it turns out her client never was sheltered.
“We have notes from the probation department from when he was a younger person where they made an inquiry,” she said. “He didn’t need the shelter of the sanctuary policy. It wasn’t that he availed himself of it. He didn’t quality for it because he was here legally.”
Following the murders, the city changed the policy and began reporting juvenile offenders.
In 2010, a Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Bologna family claiming the city’s former sanctuary policy contributed to the fatal shootings. The dismissal was upheld on appeal in 2011.
Gascon Tuesday declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said, “I don’t believe that the sanctuary city (policy) caused this case to occur.”
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The murder suspect who sparked a national controversy over San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy was not even an illegal immigrant, according to the defense attorneys of Edwin Ramos, the MS-13 gang member accused of killing three members of the Bologna family in San Francisco back in 2008.
Jury selection began in Ramos’ trial this morning in Department 25 at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice.