District attorney calls for updated laws after Colorado appeals court overturns man’s conviction of sexually assaulting foster child
Senon Louis Ramirez was convicted of child sex assault. Then the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that his behavior, while “reprehensible,” didn’t meet the legal definition of the crime.
PUBLISHED ON NOV 15, 2018 5:57PM MSTCRIME AND COURTS PRIMARY CATEGORY IN WHICH BLOG POST IS PUBLISHED
The following story contains graphic details from a child sexual assault case and may not be appropriate for all readers.
Adams County District Attorney Dave Young on Thursday urged the Colorado legislature to update the state’s laws after a court overturned a man’s conviction in a graphic child sexual assault case on grounds that his actions did not constitute the crime of which he was found guilty.
Senon Louis Ramirez. (Provided by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office)
In September, the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned Senon Louis Ramirez’s conviction, in which a jury two years ago found he forced one of his foster children to swallow his semen, telling the child it was his “milk.”
Then this week, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the lower court’s ruling.
A panel of three judges on the appellate court ruled 2-1 that because “the evidence presented at trial did not prove that the defendant touched an intimate part of the victim or that the victim touched the defendant’s intimate part … there was insufficient evidence to support the defendant’s convictions.”
“Any person who reads the facts of this case would agree that this should be a sexual assault on a child crime and the punishment should fit the crime,” Young said in a written statement. “The Colorado legislature should pass new legislation that assures an offender will be held appropriately accountable if something like this happens again.”
In 2016, Ramirez was convicted of ordering his then-4-year-old foster child to approach him, at which point he removed his clothes and ejaculated into her hands. He then, according to court documents, forced the girl to “drink the semen.”
Ramirez, who is now 80 years old, was ultimately convicted of one count each of sexual assault of a child and sexual assault of a child by a person by a position of trust. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison plus one year in jail.
The girl and her then-6-year-old sister, who is also listed as a victim in the case, were later adopted by another family and “some years later” disclosed the incident, court records show. The family then notified police.
It’s not clear from court documents reviewed by The Colorado Sun when exactly the incident took place.
A spokeswoman for the Adams County District Attorney’s Office said she didn’t know if Ramirez was still incarcerated Thursday. A search of his name in the Colorado Department of Corrections database did not return any results.
The Colorado Court of Appeals decision hinged on language in the state’s child sex assault law specifying the assailant in a child sex assault case must have had sexual contact with their victim to be found guilty. Ramirez’s attorneys argued that because there was no evidence of such contact, he could not be convicted.
One of the victims testified at trial that she never touched Ramirez’s genitals and that he never touched hers during the incident.
“Because we must construe the statutory language according to its plain and ordinary meaning, we conclude that semen is not an ‘intimate part,’” said the ruling written by Judge Michael Berger.
Berger was joined by Judge Bob Kapelke, a retired Court of Appeals judge assigned to the case, in concluding Ramirez’s conviction should be overturned.
They noted that his conduct was “reprehensible.”
MORE: Read the Colorado Court of Appeals opinion on the case (Warning: This link contains graphic descriptions from a court case.)
Judge Janice B. Davidson dissented, writing that “it is both contrary to legislative intent and absurd that, for purposes of prohibiting sexual contact with children, a grown man’s intimate parts includes his penis but not the sexual excretions of his penis.”
Davidson is also a retired judge who served as the Colorado Court of Appeals chief judge until she stepped down in October 2013.
Retired judges can be appointed to handle cases to ease the caseload of judges currently on the bench.
The Colorado Court of Appeals did uphold Ramirez’s indecent exposure conviction in the case.
“It is unconscionable that current Colorado law has allowed a loophole for this type of behavior to continue,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican whose office handled the appeal. “I hope that the legislature will take swift action in this next legislative session to fix this statute and ensure the future protection of children.”
The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault has been working with district attorneys to fix the gap in law, executive director Brie Franklin said Thursday, though no bill language has been written yet.
“We’re in the process of finding a legislator that would carry this bill,” Young, the district attorney, said in an interview with The Colorado Sun.
Colorado needs to close the gap not just for the sake of children who are sexually assaulted, but also because a sexual crime designation is necessary in order to mandate treatment for sexual offenders, Franklin said.
There’s no way this particular case was a general assault, Franklin added.
“Clearly in this case there is more going on and the harm to the child is going to be just as great as in any other sexual crime,” she said.