A Connell man will die in prison for taking the life of his 18-year-old girlfriend and her toddler.
Prudencio Juan Fragos-Ramirez, 26, was convicted Friday of shooting the woman and her son, then setting fire to their car.
Maria Cruz-Calvillo had known Fragos-Ramirez for about four months before her death on July 2, 2015, but the two had only been dating for a couple of weeks.
Prosecutors said Fragos-Ramirez may have wanted to kill the young mother because he was possessive and obsessed with her.
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Cruz-Calvillo and her 3-year-old son, Luis Lopez-Cruz, lived in Othello. They ran an errand to Pasco before a neighbor briefly saw them stop by Fragos-Ramirez’s home.
Less than a half-hour after Cruz-Calvillo visited her boyfriend in Connell, smoke was spotted coming from a nearby ravine. Volunteer firefighters were trying to put out the flames when they saw two bodies inside.
Fragos-Ramirez has been in custody since his arrest one day after the slayings.
The defense claimed that Cruz-Calvillo may have been targeted by drug dealers because she had gotten involved in the illegal business.
Fragos-Ramirez did not testify during the four-week trial in Franklin County Superior Court.
The case went to the jury Tuesday afternoon, and the guilty verdicts for two counts of first-degree aggravated murder were returned about noon Friday.
Judge Carrie Runge has no option but to order Fragos-Ramirez to serve life in prison without the possibility of early release or parole.
A sentencing date is expected to be set in the next few weeks.
Prosecutor Shawn Sant said he was told the deliberations took about 2 1/2 days because the jurors went through everything, making notes on butcher paper and re-watching all of the videos in evidence.
“They spent a lot of time with it … and it sounded like everybody was satisfied,” he told the Tri-City Herald. “That’s what we want from jurors.”
Richland attorney Scott Johnson and his law partner, Deric Orr, represented Fragos-Ramirez.
“While we are disappointed with the verdict, we are grateful to the jury for the time and thoughtfulness they put in to the case,” Johnson said.
During the trial, Johnson argued that law enforcement failed to investigate other potential suspects, including Lopez-Cruz’s father.
He also questioned how his client could start the fire, ditch the gun in a nearby orchard and run back to his house in just seven minutes to be seen mowing his lawn.
Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn reminded jurors that a 9mm handgun was found months later in an orchard where Fragos-Ramirez had worked.
Though there was not enough evidence to show if it was the exact gun used in the fatal shooting, Fragos-Ramirez told investigators upon the gun’s discovery that it may have his prints on it.
Cruz-Calvillo was afraid of her boyfriend and suspected he may try to kill her, so she took her son along thinking it would ensure her safety, Hultgrenn said.
The boy would have turned 4 a week after his death.
Sant said this is one of the most serious cases Franklin County has had for some time.
He noted that his office considered seeking the death penalty for the double murder, especially since a young child was involved, but decided against it because they didn’t have the murder weapon or DNA, or “some kind of evidence that really stands out.”
“This case is a bunch of pieces that when seen together only really point to one person as being responsible,” he said.
Sant credits the favorable verdicts to the work of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and to Chief Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum and Hultgrenn.
He also recognized Johnson and Orr for their vigorous defense of Fragos-Ramirez.
“For our system of justice to be successful, we have to have good advocacy on both sides so that people are confident with the verdict,” Sant said.