Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., imposed a 64-year prison sentence for a Merrillville man convicted of murder and criminal gang activity in a 2011 stabbing at a Hammond bar. Ernesto Roberto Ramirez, 31, cried as he expressed his sympathy to the family of Victor Adams and asked for forgiveness. Ramirez told the judge he was a devoted father of five — with children ranging from 17 to a few months old — and that he was put in a situation where he felt his life was in danger and made a split-second decision. Adams, 34, of West Lafayette, was in town for a funeral when he was stabbed Jan. 13, 2011, inside the Copper Penny Bar in Hammond. The homicide was caught on video surveillance and played for the jury numerous times. Jurors convicted Ramirez on Jan. 31 after less than two hours of deliberations. Evidence presented by deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz showed that Ramirez and his associates instigated a fight near the pool table with some friends of Adams. One of Adams’ friends had called him to come to the bar. Shortly before the murder, Ramirez left the bar, got a dark object from his vehicle and went back inside the bar, where a fight broke out shortly thereafter. With Adams’ back turned, Ramirez steadied himself with his left hand on Adams’ shoulder and plunged a knife into his neck. Adams’ friends loaded him into their car and drove to the Hammond Clinic, which was closed. Jatkiewicz presented evidence of Ramirez’s alleged gang affiliation for the judge to consider during sentencing, including photographs depicting graffiti in his Lake County Jail cells. Hammond police Detective Sgt. David Carter, who has listened to more than 1,500 phone calls by Ramirez, said Ramirez instructed one of his girlfriends recently on how to package drugs to be delivered to him at the jail. Ramirez also was lining up witnesses for his sentencing hearing, Carter said. Stefaniak said he had read and considered a large stack of letters written on Ramirez’s behalf. Defense attorney John Cantrell, who argued during trial that his client acted in self-defense, called as a witness Ramirez’s neighbor, Jason Pool, who said he had met Ramirez three years ago and would often have coffee with him over the fence. Pool said Ramirez seemed like a good father whose children were extremely respectful. Jatkiewicz argued for 62½ years, noting that Ramirez had options other than returning to the bar, presumably with the knife used to kill Adams. “He stabbed Victor Adams from behind and ran like a coward,” said Jatkiewicz, who noted Ramirez was on the run for six weeks before he was captured by members of the U.S. Marshals Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force in Joliet, Ill. Jatkiewicz said that Ramirez’s character was demonstrated in a photo in his phone of one of his young children holding a full Corona beer, and in a second video in which one of Ramirez’s associates hacks a squirrel to death with a machete while Ramirez is heard laughing. During his trial, the jury acquitted Ramirez of a separate criminal gang enhancement, which would have doubled his sentence on the murder charge. Stefaniak imposed a 62-year sentence for the murder and said he felt Ramirez’s remorse was not genuine but instead had more to do with the long prison sentence he was facing. The judge sentenced Ramirez to two years for criminal gang activity.
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