Lawyer dismissed from triple homicide

January 7, 2009 1:28:13 PM PST
A San Francisco Superior Court judge Wednesday dismissed the lead attorney for an alleged gang member accused of a triple homicide in the city's Excelsior District in 2008, potentially delaying the case significantly.

Edwin Ramos, a 22-year-old suspected member of the MS-13 street gang, is being held without bail for allegedly fatally shooting Anthony "Tony" Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, on June 22.

Police have said the family may have been mistaken for rival gang members.

Ramos told Judge Teri Jackson during a hearing on Monday that he wanted to keep his attorney Robert Amparan, even though Amparan also represented Douglas Largaespada, whom prosecutors intend to call as a witness against him. Largaespada is also an alleged MS-13 member and is currently in federal custody, but was represented by Amparan on two related state cases.

Jackson said today that preserving Ramos' Sixth Amendment right to his own attorney was crucial, but that requirement has limits, including "making sure the integrity of our (legal) system is above reproach."

Jackson said Amparan could not properly represent Ramos because of his prior relationship with Largaespada, which would prevent him from cross-examining Largaespada on the stand, even though Ramos signed legal documents waiving the conflict.

According to Jackson, Largaespada might be able to testify about Ramos' alleged MS-13 membership and Ramos' connection to the suspect vehicle in the case, as well as a possible motive for the attack, retaliation against the Norteno street gang, she said.

She also acknowledged that Largaespada could assert his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to testify.

Largaespada also signed a waiver of the conflict, but Jackson said today she was not satisfied that it was a "knowing and intelligent" one. She also expressed "some concerns" about Ramos' waiver.

"Therefore, at this time, Mr. Amparan, you will have to be recused from this case," said Jackson.

Amparan's associate, attorney Marla Zamora, will take over the defense for the time being. Ramos is due back in court Jan. 12 for a hearing on another potential witness, and on Jan. 30 for a status hearing and to schedule further dates in the case.

Amparan is expected to file a writ of appeal challenging Jackson's decision.

Zamora said after the hearing that she hoped for a decision from the court of appeal by Jan. 30, but that should Amparan's writ of appeal be denied, she was not sure whether she would stay on as Ramos' attorney after that.

Today's decision forced the cancellation of Ramos' preliminary hearing, which was to begin Wednesday afternoon.

Prosecutor George Butterworth said after the hearing that a new attorney would definitely set the case back but declined to speculate on how long.

"There's 11,000 pages of discovery (evidence), so it's going to take a while," he said.

Ramos' first attorney, Joseph O'Sullivan, dropped the case in July, also citing a conflict of representation.