The California Supreme Court agreed today to consider whether to reinstate the second-degree murder conviction of a man who fatally stabbed his former girlfriend in front of her two young children in San Francisco 11 years ago.
The court granted state prosecutors’ request for review of an appeals court ruling that overturned the conviction of Tari Ramirez in the slaying of Claire Tempkongko on Oct. 22, 2000.
Ramirez, 38, also known as Tari Beltran, was convicted of second-degree murder in San Francisco Superior Court in 2008 and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
But in March, a state Court of Appeal overturned the conviction, saying that jury instructions in the trial were “at least ambiguous, if not misleading” on the standard for a second-degree murder verdict.
The high court justices, in an order issued in San Francisco, said they would hear arguments on whether the instructions were correct and also on whether a prosecutor misstated the law during closing arguments. No date has been set for a hearing before the panel.
The slaying of Tempongko, a 28-year-old jewelry store worker, received widespread publicity because her death followed a two-year history of domestic violence.
Ramirez, a Mexican citizen who worked as a dishwasher, was arrested three times in 1999 on domestic violence charges and served four months in jail for one of the attacks.
In September 2000, Tempkongko called police to her Richmond District apartment twice, once when Ramirez allegedly choked her and a second time when he rang the buzzer of her apartment despite knowing of an emergency protective order requiring him to stay at least 100 yards away.
Ramirez stabbed Tempongko 21 times with a kitchen knife in her basement apartment in front of her son, then 10, and daughter, then 5. Ramirez was not the children’s father.
At his trial, Ramirez admitted stabbing Tempongko, but said he acted in a state of shock after learning she had become pregnant with his child and had had an abortion.
He argued he should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a lesser sentence of three to 11 years in prison, rather than second-degree murder. Prosecutors contended the homicide was calculated and deliberate and thus qualified as murder.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said, “I applaud the Supreme Court for its decision to review the lower court’s findings. The Tempongko family has suffered an unimaginable loss which they live with every single day.”
In a separate civil case, Tempongko’s family sued San Francisco for allegedly failing to transmit police reports on her calls for help to probation officials, the district attorney and the Superior Court.
The city settled the lawsuit in 2004 by awarding $500,000 to Tempongko’s two children.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News