Opening statements in a double-murder trial were disrupted Friday when a relative of the victims told the defendant that only God can judge him.
Prudencio Juan Fragos-Ramirez, 26, is accused of shooting his girlfriend and her son and setting fire to their car in northern Franklin County.
Maria Cruz-Calvillo, 18, and Luis Lopez-Cruz, 3, are believed to have died from gunshot wounds before flames consumed the vehicle.
After taking four days to select a jury, attorneys presented their sides of the case Friday afternoon to the 14-member panel.
It was while defense attorney Scott Johnson was playing a two-minute, drone-captured video showing different rural areas relevant to the case that Arturo Cruz-Calvillo took advantage of the silence.
“Juan, Juan,” said Cruz-Calvillo, trying to get the defendant’s attention.
A Franklin County corrections officer seated behind Fragos-Ramirez immediately walked back to Cruz-Calvillo, and stood between him and the defendant. Cruz-Calvillo was seated in the front row in the gallery.
Bailiff Staci Vannoy called for a recess, as sheriff’s Detective Steve Warren joined the officer in creating a wall while trying to get Cruz-Calvillo to be quiet.
But Cruz-Calvillo — the brother and uncle of the victims — wouldn’t stop talking in Spanish.
So Vannoy quickly got the jury out of the courtroom and Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge left the bench.
Cruz-Calvillo then was escorted out of the courtroom by a corrections officer and Warren.
He started shouting and reportedly became resistant as they walked him to the Franklin County jail. He was released after being cited for obstructing law enforcement.
Back in session 17 minutes later, Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn said he’d been told by court interpreters that Cruz-Calvillo kept repeating how God will judge Fragos-Ramirez.
Johnson chose not to make a motion for a mistrial, saying “I think it clearly had some impact on the jury, but don’t think that my client was prejudiced in any way.”
Runge apologized to the jurors after they returned to the courtroom. She said the court doesn’t want disruptions, and that the man had been removed.
Johnson, who then resumed his opening statement, contends there is no evidence that his client is responsible for the two deaths.
“At this very moment, somewhere out there, someone has a horrible secret,” Johnson said. “Someone knows how two people were murdered. Someone knows where they were murdered. Someone knows at what time they were murdered. And someone knows exactly why they were murdered.”
“That horrible secret is that they know they are on the verge — based upon the evidence and the lack of evidence in this case — of getting away with these murders,” he added.
“They also know that they killed both Luis and Maria in July of 2015, and they know that as we sit here today, we have no idea who they are.”
Johnson described his client as a lifelong farmworker who lived in a converted shed, had little money and was working toward becoming a U.S. citizen.
Cruz-Calvillo met Fragos-Ramirez in February 2015 and started dating him a couple of weeks before her July 2 death.
She was a young mom with a very secret life that involved various acquaintances and trying to get her hands on drugs so she could sell them, Johnson said.
Law enforcement interviewed many people right after the shooting, but since then a number of those people have disappeared and won’t be available to testify in the trial, he said.
The defense said jurors will hear about a large number of calls and texts made by Cruz-Calvillo on the day of her death, including ones saying she had to be careful, that she would be going down a dirt road and that she was meeting multiple people.
He acknowledged that Fragos-Ramirez had a short visit from his girlfriend and her son just before 5 p.m.
Neighbors then spotted smoke at 5:30 coming from a nearby ravine, which is where volunteer firefighters found the burning car with two bodies inside.
Johnson said there’s no way his client could have done it, because just seven minutes later, Fragos-Ramirez was seen mowing his lawn. That wouldn’t have been enough time for him to start the fire, run north to ditch the gun in an orchard, and then get back to his Connell home on Hogback Road.
The attorney also questioned why, when the gun was discovered in March, certain tests weren’t done to compare it to bullets found at Fragos-Ramirez’s home or at the crime scene.
There was “a general failure” by law enforcement to investigate other suspects, Johnson said. “This case will remain tragically a mystery.”
Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum admitted the state does not have a witness who will testify they saw Fragos-Ramirez shoot the victims.
But he’s confident, after jurors hear all the evidence from both experts and witnesses, they will find Fragos-Ramirez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The last person who saw Maria and Luis alive was the defendant,” Corkrum said. “And he was the first person to see them dead because he committed the crime of aggravated murder in the first degree.”