District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable James T.
Blanch No. 141904935
M. Nelson, Attorney for Appellant
D. Reyes and Christopher D. Ballard, Attorneys for Appellee
David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges
Jill M. Pohlman and Diana Hagen concurred.
"Please don't kill me. I have kids."
Victim's plea was in vain, as Defendant Harlin Argelio
Ramos stabbed him eight times, including a fatal thrust to
the heart. After fleeing the scene, police located and
arrested Ramos. In his interview, Ramos alleged that Victim
had been the aggressor and that he had only acted in
self-defense. The State charged Ramos with murder. At trial,
the judge instructed the jury on both perfect and imperfect
self-defense, and on the lesser-included offense of
imperfect-self-defense manslaughter. One of those
instructions was flawed, but the error was not prejudicial.
The jury convicted Ramos as charged, and he timely appeals.
Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on a mid-April morning, Victim and
Friend had just finished watching a late movie at a movie
theater. Because they had driven separately, Victim walked
Friend to her car and she drove him back to his own. Before
parting ways, the two talked in the car. While they
conversed, Friend noticed two men-Ramos and his accomplice
(Accomplice)-walk in front of her car and look at her in a
way that "made [her] very uncomfortable." The
men's behavior alarmed her so much that she removed her
Taser from the glove compartment and rested it on the center
console. Victim, however, seemed unconcerned about the men
and continued their conversation.
Just as Victim was about to exit the vehicle, Ramos suddenly
opened the passenger door and thrust his "whole
arm" inside. Friend thought Ramos was reaching for her
keys in an attempt to rob her. Victim pushed Ramos away and
the two struggled outside of the car. Meanwhile, Friend
closed her passenger door and went to call 911, but
accidentally dropped her phone on the car floor. She then
locked her car doors, honked her horn, screamed for help, and
tried to find her phone.
When Friend looked back up, Victim and Ramos were no longer
within eyesight, so she opened her door and stepped out of
her car to find them. She heard Victim screaming "Please
don't kill me. I have kids. Please don't kill
me." Friend then grabbed her Taser and ran around to the
front of her car. She found Victim on the ground with Ramos
straddling Victim's lower abdomen and upper legs. She
thought that Ramos was punching Victim, so she approached
Ramos from behind and applied her Taser to the back of his
pant leg, but it had no effect.
Realizing that the Taser needed to contact skin, Friend
pulled down the collar of Ramos's jacket and applied the
Taser to the back of his neck. Ramos tried to fight her off,
and she ran back to her car, locked her car doors, began
honking her horn and screaming for help. Having located her
phone, she then dialed 911. Ramos and Accomplice then fled
the scene on foot and were soon thereafter picked up by a
taxi driver. As Friend waited for someone to answer her
911 call, she saw Victim stagger in front of her car and fall
near her door. Friend opened her door and heard Victim say,
"I'm dying. Please help me."
As the 911 operator answered, an off-duty paramedic
(Paramedic) responded to Friend's cries for help.
Paramedic testified that, as he approached, he saw Ramos
"cross in front of him and look directly at him."
Paramedic rolled Victim onto his back to triage and treat his
injuries, and soon thereafter he started CPR.
Meanwhile, Witness, whose apartment overlooks the crime
scene, was watching television at home when he heard a woman
screaming for help. From his vantage point, Witness saw two
men assaulting another man and pinning him to the ground.
Thinking that a robbery was in progress, Witness went to
help, but by the time he arrived, Paramedic had already begun
treatment. Police and on-duty paramedics soon arrived and
took over, but Victim had already passed away.
Victim suffered nine sharp-force injuries: three to his
chest, two to his upper back, two to his abdomen, one to his
armpit, and one to the back of his right hand that was
consistent with a defensive injury. All wounds were likely
inflicted by a single-edged knife. The blade had entered
Victim's chest and penetrated completely through his
heart, "fully perforat[ing]" his "right
ventricle." This was "a lethal injury" that
stopped Victim's heart "within minutes."
Victim's left lung was punctured twice, once from the
front and once from the back, which hastened his death.
Before police arrived, Ramos and Accomplice fled the scene as
Victim bled out. On arrival, police found two backpacks on
site, one of which contained a cell phone receipt with
Ramos's name on it, as well as his identification card.
Police eventually located Ramos at a motel and arrested him.
In the motel room, police found a t-shirt, a black jacket,
and black athletic pants-all bloodstained-in the trash can in
Ramos's room. DNA testing revealed Victim's blood on
the t-shirt, jacket, and pants. Additionally, Ramos's
fingerprint was on the front passenger door of Friend's
Ramos was given his Miranda warnings and agreed to be
interviewed by police. He informed police that he did not
speak English, so the interview was conducted in Spanish. His
interview resulted in several conflicting accounts.
Initially, Ramos said that he and Accomplice had planned to
meet a "taxi" from "someone who had a white
sedan" and had mistaken Friend's car for the taxi.
He further alleged that as he approached the door, Victim had
jumped out and started hitting him in the head, grabbed his
throat, and lifted him completely off of the ground. Ramos
stated that as Victim hit him, Ramos said "'sorry,
sorry,' and 'no problem, '" in English, but
Victim continued to choke Ramos until he "became
desperate" because he was "being asphyxiated."
Ramos said he exclaimed, "Help me, help me, he is going
to kill me," and then pulled out his knife and stabbed
When a detective told Ramos to "tell the truth,"
Ramos responded by claiming he was "confused" and
maintained that he was attacked by Victim. But he then stated
that he believed that Victim was somehow associated with a
violent street gang and feared that they had come to harm
When the detective again asked Ramos to tell the truth, Ramos
gave yet another version of the events, claiming that he had
approached the vehicle because "he was selling drugs and
he thought the people in the car wanted some." He
continued to state that Victim had exited the car, began
hitting and choking him, and because Ramos had drugs in his
mouth that night, he spit them out when he was choked. But
police did not recover any drugs at the murder scene or in
Ramos's backpack or motel room. Ramos also told police
initially that he dropped the knife as he fled the scene, but
later said that he "may have thrown it away" with
his clothing. Despite a thorough search, police did not find
a knife in the area.
Three days after the murder, the police interviewed Taxi
Driver. He also testified at trial, but his two accounts
differ significantly. During his police interview, Taxi
Driver told police that Ramos called him "around 1:00
a.m., 1:30 a.m., or 1:40 a.m." But when police asked to
see Taxi Driver's phone log, he said that he had deleted
it. A review of Ramos's phone records showed no outgoing
calls to Taxi Driver during the 1:00 a.m. hour. Instead,
Ramos's log showed only that Taxi Driver had called him
at 1:08 a.m. that morning. Taxi Driver testified that after
he got Ramos's call, it took him "fifteen or twenty
minutes to drive from his West Valley home to [the murder
scene], and that he parked and waited another fifteen or
twenty minutes before [Ramos] and [Accomplice]
'arrived.'" Taxi Driver also initially told
police that he did not see the fight and that Ramos claimed
to have been hit, but did not mention being strangled.
Taxi Driver testified differently at trial. There, he stated
that he operated a private taxi service and that on the night
of the murder, Ramos called him in the early morning for a
ride. Taxi Driver claimed that he saw both Ramos and
Accomplice getting into a car. He then saw an angry man get
out of that car and heard Ramos say in Spanish, "This
isn't the right car, sorry." Taxi Driver said that the
man refused to accept the apology and fought with Ramos. Taxi
Driver further testified that he never saw Ramos with a knife
but did see a woman try to tase Ramos. Taxi Driver stated
that Ramos looked "dizzy" and fell, and that he
"was bleeding all over [the left side of] his
face," but photographs taken upon Ramos's arrest
show only one abrasion on his forehead and no other injury to
When asked about the discrepancies in his accounts, Taxi
Driver testified that he was "nervous" during the
police interview and "might have omitted a few details
here and there." Taxi Driver asserted that he had
testified to "the truth"-that he witnessed the
fight, including Ramos being choked, and that Ramos ...