California Supreme Court to Hear 'Night Stalker' Case

Appellate lawyers for the convicted serial killer known as the "Night Stalker" say his trial attorneys were inexperienced and nearly guaranteed his conviction for the grisly killing spree that terrorized the state in the 1980s.

The California Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Richard Ramirez's case Tuesday.

Ramirez, now 46, was sentenced to death in 1989 for 13 Los Angeles-area murders committed in 1984 and 1985. Satanic symbols were left at some murder scenes and some victims were forced to "swear to Satan" by the killer, who broke into homes through unlocked windows and doors.

His appellate attorneys say his original lawyers' inexperience in capital cases and bizarre behavior during the trial should get him off death row. Despite warning Ramirez against retaining the two men, the judge did not disqualify the lawyers because they were chosen by Ramirez's family.

Daniel Hernandez and Arturo Hernandez, who are not related, had a combined five years of experience when they took over as Ramirez's defense lawyers. Both had a history of being held in contempt in Santa Clara County for their handling of cases, and their conduct resulted in the reversal of one murder conviction.

Both were absent for long periods during Ramirez's trial. Daniel Hernandez cited a stress-related illness, and Arturo Hernandez was held in contempt after he told the court he needed to attend his brother's funeral in Mexico when he actually was honeymooning in Europe.

Arturo Hernandez said the Ramirez defense team did its best in a difficult case. Daniel Hernandez died in 2003.

"They're Monday morning quarterbacking," Hernandez said. "But we did it pro bono. Didn't get a penny. For free, I think we did a hell of a good job."

Prosecutors say the judge was correct in allowing the two to stay on the case. They maintain that Ramirez got a fair trial, noting the "overwhelming evidence" of guilt.

"Our position is that Ramirez received constitutionally adequate assistance of counsel," Deputy Attorney General Margaret Maxwell said.