Two days after Nathan Ramazzini, 38, took the witness stand in a Colusa County courtroom and said he was “a monster” and that he deserved the sentence he got for the 1997 brutal slaying of his childhood best friend, Erik Ingebretsen, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson agreed.
Thompson on Friday upheld the original sentence that Ramazzini was handed down 20 years ago of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for first degree premeditated murder and lying in wait, plus one year for the use of weapons – in this case the bat he used to bludgeon 16-year-old Ingebretsen to death and the knife he and Leo Contreras, then 19, used to mutilate his dead body.
Thompson said the crime was so horrific that “it traumatized the small town of Colusa” forever.
Ramazzini was 16 years old when he planned and executed Ingebretsen for little or no reason. He is one of about 270 prison inmates serving life without parole in California for crimes they committed as minors. All are being given a second chance at being released under Senate Bill 9, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in 2012, which essentially commuted the original sentence and sent the case back to a local trial judge to reconsider a sentence that could be less harsh.
In order to get out of prison in as little as four years, however, Ramazzini would have had to show some sign he has or can be rehabilitated, that he is not a danger to society, and that he has developed some sense of remorse for his crime – the last something Thompson said Ramazzini could not muster, even during his testimony. Nor could he muster a testimony that didn’t contradict his defense witness’ claim that he acted impulsively, was under the influence of tremendous peer pressure, and acted with little thought to the consequences.
Instead, Ramazzini admitted on Oct. 24, the second day of the hearing, to being the driving force behind the planning and murder of Ingebretsen, who he had grown up with in a close-knit circle of family, friends, church, and community, before choosing to take a path of violence and crime, despite avoiding criminal convictions.
“He is that rare juvenile offender whose corruption is not repairable,” Thompson said, after going through all the points of the new law that might have granted Ramazzini a shot at being re-sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
Ingebretsen’s sister, Devin Lombardi, who was just 13 when her brother was murdered, said with each new juvenile reform law, the California Legislature makes clear that the rights of the victims do not matter.
“The one solace my family and our town was given for the tragic and senseless loss of Erik was Nathan’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole, plus one year,” Lombardi said. “To us, Nathan already received a second chance: he got to live. Life is his second chance. All of Erik chances ended on July 15, 1997.”
Colusa County District Attorney Mathew Beauchamp, like his predecessor John Poyner, who oversaw the original trial, believes that Ramazzini should remain in prison for life because he continued to exhibit severe anti-social and high risk behavior even after he was sent to prison. Ramazzini was disciplined for stabbing two inmates on two separate occasions, participating in a riot, numerous instances of disregarding authority, and was investigated for conspiracy to commit murder, Beauchamp said.
Most of testimony the first day of the hearing included that of Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a Los Angeles-based clinical and forensic psychologist, a champion of juvenile justice reform (according to her Twitter account), who said research shows that murderers convicted as teenagers can be rehabilitated to become functional members of society once the brain is fully developed around age 25. Ramazzini is now 38.
Kaser-Boyd, who interviewed Ramazzini for four hours in 2016 and administered a personality test typically used to assess personality disorders, testified that she did not find that Ramazzini had a identifiable mental defect that would preclude him from being able to change and control his behavior now that he has actively participated in full rehabilitation. Ramazzini has been nearly a model prisoner the past five years, she said, and has completed high school and earned an associate’s degree. He has also attended numerous anger managemnt, 12-step programs, and other self-help classes available for him.
Beauchamp, however, dismissed her interpretation of the computer-generated results of the 344-question test and said she “hid” in her testimony that the test results indicated that Ramazzini’s risk for Antisocial Social Personality Disorder was greater than 99 percent of the general population. Beauchamp said she also missed that Ramazzini has never shown remorse for the killing.
Both Beauchamp and Poyner said they believe Ramazzini’s behavior at the time of the killing stems to deeper pathology than just bad but correctable behavior of a youth. Ramazzini saved the bat he used to inflect multiple lethal blows to Ingebretsen as a souvenir, but threw away his bloody shoes and clothing, before joining the search party the next day for his missing friend. Beauchamp also said Ramazzini bragged to other inmates while he awaited trial that he enjoyed the sound of bones crunching and the sound of the knife entering Ingebretsen’s body, which are things not easily dismissed as youthful transgressions.
Ramazzini showed almost no emotion throughout most of his testimony, still claiming after 20 years that Contreras initially suggested “taking care of Erik” to avenge Freddy Garcia, but admitting that he essentially planned Ingebretsen’s murder the night before the killing. Ramazzini admitted that the following day he wore his father’s shoes to disguise his footprints, that he borrowed his father’s car, that he and Contreras placed the bat and knife in the car, that they picked up Ingebretsen from Holiday Market after his shift, and that they lured their friend on a ruse to the Sacramento River in order to kill him.
“I should have been a better friend,” Ramazzini said. “I should have valued his life.”
Although Ramazzini still denied using the knife, he admitted that he beat his friend to death and that he later washed the bloody bat and put it back in his room, despite multiple warnings from Thompson that he had the right not to incriminate himself and that anything he said could be used against him.
Ramazzini, who was arrested two days after the murder, showed little emotion on the stand when he described the planning, the execution, and the cover-up of the murder. He showed no emotion when asked to stand up and demonstrate, as if holding a bat, the force of the blows. He was, however, slightly more animated when he talked about how he, Contreras, Freddy Garcia, and other boys, while in high school, drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, vandalized the high school, committed burglary, set fire to a Hindu place of worship, and called in bomb threats. He said he felt lucky then to be a part of that circle of friends.
“That is who I wanted to gravitate to,” he said. “I was totally immersed in the group. I felt that I finally found a group who totally accepted me.”
Ramazzini said they, along with a few older boys, had the motto “Be Ready, Be Willing, Be Able.”
“It’s like the Nike ad – Just Do It!” Ramazzini said. “I killed Erik.”
Although the Ramazzini and Ingebretsen families were close before the slaying, Ramazzini did not, during testimony, look at his former friends, including Lombardi, to offer any kind of apology or logical explanation applicable for eventual parole for the unusually vicious beating and near decapitation of her brother, despite numerous prompts by his attorney.
Ramazzini was stoic as he admitted he struck the four blows (which all were deemed by the coroner to be lethal) to Ingebretsen’s head, belying his longtime story that he “was not the trigger-man” as he claimed in the letter he wrote to Brown, urging him to pass SB 9, and that he had only struck his friend one time with the bat.
Although Ramazzini’s defense for re-sentencing relied heavily on Kaser-Boyd’s testimony that peer pressure and fear for his own life drove Ramazzini to go along with a murder, Ramazzini admitted there would have been no consequences had he not gone through with the plan, nor would Contreras have killed Ingebretsen without him.
“I could have said no many times,” he said. “I was going to be there for Leo. I was going to ‘be down.’ I was going to do this.”
Because Ramazzini contradicted his defense strategy that he was a mentally-underdeveloped and impulsive teenager that succumbed to peer pressure, Beauchamp cut short his cross examination.
“I didn’t need to bring out more evidence from the trial and put people through it,” Beauchamp said. “Ramazzini admitted to being a driving force in the murder and that Erik would still be alive if it wasn’t for him.”
Ramazzini also admitted that he lied to Kaser-Boyd when she interviewed him in 2016.
“We were wondering if he was going to testify,” Beauchamp said, after the verdict. “Otherwise it was going to be the same story he’s been telling for over 20 years. We got a different story this time around, and, actually, he indicated he was the leader. He was the one that planned it, and there was really no reason, as we have always known, for it, and he could not come up with a real motive for it.”
Before sentencing, Thompson said that while Ramazzini might “talk the talk” about rehabilitation, he would not be able to “walk the walk” if he was ever released into society.
After the hearing, Ramazzini was returned to a special housing unit in state prison, typically reserved for pedophiles and prison informants. Under California’s new law, he has the right to appeal to a higher court.
Poyner, who attended the hearing, said afterward that the community should not have had to go through this trauma again, but that Ramazzini’s testimony and the upholding of the sentence of life without parole finally puts an end to the speculation that others were involved or that Ramazzini was pressured to kill, which would have bolstered Ramazzini’s SB 9 claims.
“I feel vindicated,” Poyner said. “I have said all along that he was the ‘heavy’ in this. I’ve said it for years, but I’m pissed off because we had to do this. This is Jerry Brown’s fault and it just pisses me off.”
Absent the Hollywood ending of a mafia-style hit as a motive, several members of the community, after hearing Ramazzini’s testimony of the horrific, cruel, and senseless murder, said they now come to accept what others suspected for many years and have come to accept, that Ramazzini “is a psychopath” and that he chose a path of evil that he likely wanted his childhood friend to follow.
Scott Vedo, Ingebretsen’s uncle, in his final statement to the killer, said the SB9 process was not a review of Ramazzini’s life sentence, but a review of Erik’s death sentence at the hands of a devil.
“You took us into the darkness of your world, and it is a sickening place,” Vedo told him.
Afterward, Lombardi said she was grateful for the prosecution and judge, who re-demonstrated that Ramazzini deserved the sentence he originally received, and said had Ramazzini not been caught after killing Erik, her brother would probably not be his only victim.
Lombardi plans to continue to advocate for victims’ rights.
“Nathan made me an only child, after 13 wonderful years spent looking up to a fun, loving, and protective older brother,” she stated in court. “I can tell you, it was excruciatingly painful and lonely for me to watch all of my friends grow up with their siblings.” ■