The Illinois Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a man charged with robbing a jewelry dealer in the driveway of a Riverside home in 2014 and has ordered a new trial.
In its March 30 ruling, the appellate court panel of judges stated that critical evidence presented at the trial of Juan A. Ramos was inadmissible hearsay and that the circuit court judge improperly restricted Ramos’ attorney during his closing argument at trial.
Ramos, 24, was convicted of violently robbing a 70-year-old man as he stepped out of his vehicle in the driveway of Riverside resident Kathleen Snyder on Aug. 3, 2014. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 29 years in prison.
Also convicted of the robbery was 23-year-old Saul Sandoval, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Sandoval has filed a separate appeal; the appellate court has not yet ruled on his case.
Ramos’ attorney appealed the conviction based on nine separate issues. The appellate court focused in on two of those issues: the introduction at trial of cellphone records indicating that Sandoval and Ramos followed their victim from a swap meet in Chicago to Riverside and Judge Gregory Ginex prohibiting Ramos’ attorney from using sections of the court transcript and notes he’d written on the pages during closing arguments.
According to the appellate court ruling, prosecutors failed to authenticate the cellphone records, relying on a summary of the records at trial by a Riverside detective instead of an expert.
While it appears that error by the prosecutor could be corrected in a retrial, the appellate court ruling indicates possible trouble ahead in a retrial. First, the appellate court ruling states that prosecutors introduced “no evidence that actually put [Ramos] inside the SUV when it was tailing [the jewelry dealer].”
The cellphone records are from Sandoval’s phone, and Ramos’ attorney has also questioned how his client was identified by Snyder. Addressing that issue has been complicated by the fact that Snyder, who testified at the trial, has died.
The robbery victim reportedly was not able to see the faces of the two people who robbed him, because his shirt had been pulled over his head. Ramos’ attorney also argues that the prosecution did not prove a gun was involved in the robbery. Snyder had stated Ramos pointed a gun at her when she went outside after hearing a commotion in her front yard.
Ramos’ attorney also argued in his appeal that the sentence given to his client was excessive.
The appellate court panel in its ruling did not address any of the other issues raised by Ramos’ attorney. It only zeroed in on the cellphone records and Judge Ginex’s improper admonishment of Ramos’ attorney during closing arguments.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he hopes the Cook County State’s Attorney decides to retry Ramos.
“There was a tremendous amount of evidence in this case,” Weitzel said. “These are career criminals, and this wasn’t random. It was a planned event.”
In response to an email inquiry by the Landmark, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s press office declined to comment, because it involved “pending litigation.”