Luis Enrique Ramos-De La Riva

Luis Enrique Ramos-De La Riva, 36, appears in Yakima County Superior Court Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.

The man accused of stabbing another man to death in Sunnyside in 2018 will be released from the Yakima County jail.

Prosecutors dropped Luis Enrique Ramos-De La Riva’s second-degree murder charge in return for his guilty plea to felony violation of a no-contact order. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison, but given credit for the nearly three years he served in jail while awaiting trial.

Deputy Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Quinten Bowman said it was not how prosecutors wanted to resolve the case, but they were left with little choice after the only eyewitness to the stabbing died.

“This is not something the state does lightly, especially under the facts,” Bowman said during Ramos-De La Riva’s hearing in Yakima County Superior Court. “We had an eyewitness who was willing to testify that he had to pull the defendant off the victim. He died a couple months later, either of a drug overdose or exposure.”

Prosecutors dismissed the murder charge with prejudice, meaning that it can never be refiled.

Ramos-De La Riva is accused of attacking Jason Michael Espinoza, 36, on Nov. 20, 2018, outside an apartment in the 200 block of South Sixth Street in Sunnyside, stabbing him repeatedly with a pruning shear blade, according to court documents. Espinoza was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died from his wounds Nov. 26, 2018.

Ramos-De La Riva, 39, asserted that he had killed Espinoza in self-defense, and Bowman said that without the testimony of Andrew M. Daniel, the state would not be able to disprove that claim beyond a reasonable doubt.

And that was not for a lack of trying on the state’s part, Bowman said.

“We flew drones in that area, we consulted with blood-spatter experts to look for ways to find the self-defense claims were not accurate,” Bowman said.

Limited options

Pursuing the case in those circumstances, which Bowman compared to “tilting at windmills,” would not be the best course of action or use of taxpayer funds that would be spent on a jury trial that would likely not result in a conviction, he said.

Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said prosecutors could not just introduce the witness’ statements as evidence. He explained that would deny Ramos-De La Silva the right to confront the witness and challenge his recollection of events.

It’s a right that’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the rules of evidence regarding criminal trials.

Without that testimony, jurors hearing the case would have had a valid reason to doubt the state’s argument that Espinoza was murdered rather than killed in self-defense, requiring them to acquit, Brusic said.

While the state couldn’t prosecute Ramos-De La Riva for Espinoza’s killing, Bowman said the state could take steps to protect the woman who was described in court as Ramos-De La Riva’s “former significant other.” Ramos-De La Riva pleaded guilty to a third violation of a protection order, making it a felony.

The woman, speaking through a court interpreter, asked Judge Richard Bartheld to give Ramos-De La Riva the longest possible sentence. She said Ramos-De La Riva had choked her, threatened to kill her children and touched her daughter sexually.

“Even now, after all this time, I am not capable of think clearly or able to sleep comfortably,” she told Bartheld. “Just hearing his name gets me trembling. I get so scared he’s going to be free someday and he’s going to harm us.”

She said Ramos-De La Riva would likely not respect a restraining order if he is released.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.

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