Over the course of his 32 year career as a prosecutor in Colusa County, one case in particular stands out in the mind of retired District Attorney John Poyner: the 1997 murder of 16-year-old Erik Ingebretsen.
Ingebretsen was killed by his two best friends, Nathan Ramazzini, then 16, and Leopoldo “Leo” Contreras, then 19. Ingebretsen was taken by Ramazzini and Contreras to a remote location on the east side of the Sacramento River, about a mile north of Colusa, where his skull was smashed with an aluminum baseball bat and he was stabbed repeatedly with a butcher’s knife before having his throat slashed. His body was discovered two days later, after the community rallied together to search for the missing 16-year-old. According to the recollection of a detective who worked the case, Ramazzini helped in the search efforts.
“It was, and still is, the most horrific crime I’ve ever prosecuted, and I’ve done 25 murders,” Poyner said. “It was terrible.”
Poyner successfully prosecuted the case: Contreras accepted a plea bargain from prosecutors and was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison, while Ramazzini was tried as an adult and convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree, along with a special allegation of lying in wait and another of the use of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Of Ramazzini, Poyner said at the time that he believed they had caught a serial killer on his first kill.
“I convicted this guy of a heinous crime,back when the law said I could not get him the death penalty, because he was 16 years old, and the death penalty is reserved for people who are 18 years old or older,” Poyner said recently. “(Had he been an adult) I absolutely could have gotten the death penalty… I think the guy is a psycho – I really believe that. There’s no way that guy deserves to get out of prison.”
But there is a chance that might actually happen.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 394 into law in October of last year, which allows an offender who was 18 or younger when they were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) to be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. Under the new law, Ramazzini will be eligible to come before the Board of Parole Hearings prior to July 1, 2020. Ingebretson’s family recently received a letter from the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office informing them of the implications of the new law, his sister, Devin Lombardi, said. She added the timing was confusing, because he would still be two years shy of 25 years served on that date.
In the midst of all the talk about SB 394 and a parole hearing still two years out, something else is going on with the Ramazzini case: he is attempting to have his LWOP sentence recalled and reduced to a 25-year sentence. He is scheduled to appear in Colusa County Superior Court on May 10 for an evidentiary hearing regarding a motion to recall his LWOP sentence. The hearing is set for 9 AM.
“This re-sentencing hearing – I wish I had a clearer understanding of why this has been granted,” Lombardi said. “All I know is that this is completely separate from SB 394 and his Parole Board hearing.”
Lombardi will be giving a victim impact statement at the hearing at the request of current Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp, and is asking for the community’s help and support when she does so.
“I thought it would be worth my time to talk to the judge not just about how my family feels about this, but the whole community,” Lombardi said. “I started an online petition just today, that already has over 300 signatures. I’m also spreading awareness on social media… asking people to come and stand with us… We’re trying to spread the word that this is not right, that this is not fair – we’re having our justice ripped from us in this effort to rehabilitate juvenile offenders, and it’s appalling that we’re being dragged through this all over again…
I’m just asking whoever wants to fight against the repercussions and backlash of this pro-juvenile legislation – I’m inviting them to come and stand with us. There will be some local businesses in Colusa County that will have a paper version of the petition. If they see a petition at a local business, if they can sign and support us, that would be great.” ■