WILKES-BARRE — Where did Jose A. Ramos plan to live after prison? And why does it matter?
The prosecution said at trial in Luzerne County Court pn Wednesday that evidence will show Ramos lied to prison officials about his destination on a Megan’s Law registration form before his release, thus breaking the law.
Ramos’ attorney countered that his client actually had up to 48 hours to report his new address to police, and prosecutors were premature in arresting Ramos on an alleged Megan’s Law violation as he walked out of the State Correctional Institution at Dallas on Nov. 7, 2012 after completing a 27-year sentence in connection with child-molestation charges.
“They arrested him before he even had a chance to do what was right,” defense attorney Tom Marsilio told jurors gathered in Judge David W. Lupas’ courtroom.
Ramos, 70, is on trial for a charge of providing false information. As a sex offender under Megan’s Law, that constitutes a felony offense. Court records show Ramos pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in 1990, meaning he has to register as a sex offender for life.
Assistant District Attorney Alexis Falvello called to the stand Ramos’ counselor from SCI-Dallas, Frank DePiero, and a prison clerical worker, Bernadette Cotterman. They testified that in early October 2012, Ramos reported he planned to live with a cousin at 944 Leggett Ave., Bronx, N.Y., after release. When they determined the address was an apartment building, the officials pressed Ramos for more information, including an apartment number, phone number and the relative’s name.
Cotterman testified Ramos said the apartment took up the third floor, that his cousin’s last name was Otero-Valentine, and that he didn’t have her phone number. Ramos signed a sworn statement that the information was accurate, the officials said.
That cousin, whose name is Mildred Lebron, testified Wednesday that she hasn’t lived at 944 Leggett Ave. since 1983. Lebron said she hadn’t seen Ramos in more than 30 years and had not spoken with him prior to his intended release date, but she did reject numerous collect calls from Ramos in prison. Lebron also testified her name never was Otero-Valentine, rather that those names were her mother’s maiden name and her brother’s first name, respectively.
Lebron did say she received a letter from Ramos on Dec. 27, 2012, after he was re-arrested and confined to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Under questioning from Falvello, Lebron read a passage in which Ramos wrote: “I just gave your address to go and register with the police,” and that his intent was not to live with Lebron but to go to Florida to visit his parents’ graves.
Under cross-examination, Marsilio directed Lebron to read an additional line, in which Ramos wrote that he “had no idea you no longer lived at 944 Leggett Ave. in the Bronx anymore.”
“Do you know if he was planning on visiting the grave site after her properly registered with the police in New York?” Marsilio asked Lebron.
“I don’t know that,” she replied.
Other highlights of Tuesday afternoon’s testimony:
• Jurors heard from two New York City police detectives who investigated Ramos’ possible ties to the Bronx apartment in October 2012 following a request from Pennsylvania State Trooper Martin Connors, who was contacted by SCI-Dallas about concerns regarding the address provided by Ramos. The detectives testified investigation revealed that there were two vacant apartments in the building — one on the third floor — and none of the residents had ever heard of Ramos.
• Jurors also heard from Howard Cohen, a rabbi who ministered to Ramos while he was incarcerated at SCI-Graterford, in Montgomery County, in the early 1990s. The pair stayed in touch over the years, Cohen said, and the rabbi planned to drive from his home in Vermont to SCI-Dallas on Nov. 7, 2012, to give Ramos a ride to New York City.
Cohen wrote to Ramos on Oct. 18, 2012: “Unless you tell me otherwise, I assume I will be taking you toward New York City.” He initially testified that the word “assume” referred to concerns about a looming hurricane, and how close he could get to New York. Falvello pointed out that Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit New York until 11 days later, on Oct. 29, 2012.
Cohen acknowledged he may have made a mistake about the reference being to the hurricane, rather that he was initially confused about the location of 944 Leggett Ave., which was resolved soon after.
Testimony is set to resume at 9 this morning. The trial could last several days, and Marsilio said Ramos will take the stand to testify.