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Crime & Justice

What it was like to cover the trial of 'Night Stalker' Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez during a court appearance in Los Angeles, Ca., in October of 1985.
Richard Ramirez during a court appearance in Los Angeles, Ca., in October of 1985.
Lennox Mclendon /AP
Richard Ramirez during a court appearance in Los Angeles, Ca., in October of 1985.
David Shinn, at podium, deputy chief of the San Francisco police department, speaks during a news conference while standing beside a photograph of "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, Thursday Oct. 22, 2009. San Francisco police say the infamous serial killer known as the "Night Stalker" is a suspect in a 1984 San Francisco homicide of a nine-year old girl. Ramirez, who is now on death row at San Quentin State Prison, was identified by cold case detectives Thursday as a suspect in the killing of Mei Leung. (AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels)
Russel A. Daniels/AP

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Serial killer Richard Ramirez died this morning of natural causes at Marin General Hospital while awaiting execution on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Ramirez, dubbed the Night Stalker, had been convicted of murdering thirteen people in Southern California in 1984 and 1985.  

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck released an official statement on Ramirez's death:

"The death of Richard Ramirez in prison today closes a dark chapter in the history of Los Angeles. Let's not forget the victims who suffered at his hands and the victims' families who are still suffering with the memories of their lost loved ones."

For more on Richard Ramirez, we're joined by Pasadena Star-News editor Frank Girardot, who covered the trial for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.  

RELATED: 'Night Stalker' Richard Ramirez dies of natural causes; serial killer terrorized SoCal in '80s

Interview Highlights:


What the atmosphere was like in Los Angeles during the time:
"In the '80s, it certainly was not like today, there weren't pagers and cell phones and all these ways of communicating socially instantly, people lived almost like they did in the "Mad Men" era, so newspapers drove a lot of the coverage of this. From March to June it became increasingly more horrible as women were turning up dead in apartments and old people were turning up dead after break-ins and satanic symbols were being left behind at some of these crime scenes."

On why it took so long to figure out that the killings were connected:
"Initially it was unexplainable, a coroner's investigator — talking to homicide investigators, who weren't talking to each other — was able to say, 'Hey you know a lot of these crimes have some similarity to them and perhaps they're related.' At that point the sheriff's department, the LAPD, the coroner, the Glendale PD, put together a task force that was devoted to tracking down Ramirez and putting him behind bars."

How Ramirez finally got caught:
"At first the clues were not great at the crime scene, in fact, I think the only thing that they had was a shoe print. But as more and more of these crimes occurred they were able to get more defining information. In late August, the police finally figured out that the guy they were looking for was named Richard Ramirez.

"What they did was put out a photograph of him to the newspapers. The  newspapers were on a rack at a liquor store. Ramirez walks in sees a picture of him, mumbles something about it being him, runs out of the liquor store, goes to steal a car and everybody in the neighborhood has this idea that there's this guy stealing a car, he's probably the Night Stalker because he looks like this picture I just saw in the newspaper. They grabbed him, beat him and held him for the police."

What it was like to cover the Ramirez trial:
"Trial itself was pretty crazy, it's certainly like nothing you can imagine happening here today. It was televised, it lasted several weeks, it involved a lot of gruesome testimony and a lot of theatrics from the defendant. He would draw pentagrams on his hand, and hold it up for the cameras, he would smile at people.

"At one point a juror was killed, turns out it was by her boyfriend, but it was certainly a scary time. Ultimately, in October he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Then you have this whole story about the death penalty. Here is this guy who's been on death row since almost 1989 and he dies by natural causes. It's an unusual end to this long saga of terror that really gripped Southern California in 1985."