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By scoring a third consecutive death verdict Monday, the Alameda County district attorney’s office may have snuffed out the notion that jurors have raised the bar on death-eligible cases. DA Tom Orloff personally prosecuted Irving Ramirez, the 25-year-old man who received the death verdict Monday for killing a police officer. Last month, Deputy District Attorney John Brouhard secured a death verdict against Alex Demolle, and Deputy DA Angela Backers won a death sentence against Robert Rhoades, who was already serving time on Death Row for another murder. Those recent prosecution victories stand in contrast to a longer-term trend: From 1995 through mid-2006, Alameda County prosecutors obtained death sentences in 17 out of 46 capital cases, for a success rate of 37 percent. Some Alameda criminal attorneys saw the allegations against Ramirez as particularly challenging for the defense � even before Orloff took up the case. “Everything I heard from the scuttlebutt around the courthouse was that this case was going to be a death [verdict],” said Oakland attorney James Giller, who defended Demolle. San Leandro police officer Nels Niemi was killed in July 2005. As the prosecution told the story in court, Niemi was responding to a domestic disturbance call when he came upon Ramirez and his friends, who had been drinking cognac. Niemi asked for IDs, but as he turned around, Ramirez shot the cop in the back of the head and then fired six more times. At the time of opening statements, defense attorneys Michael Berger and Deborah Levy were not questioning that the shooting was intentional. Instead, they tried to persuade the jury that the killing was not premeditated � a distinction that might have made the difference between first- and second-degree murder, and that could have spared Ramirez the death penalty. Greg Lemmon, a detective sergeant in the San Leandro Police Department, said he sat through all but one day of the Ramirez trial. During the penalty phase, Lemmon said that Levy tried contrasting Ramirez with several serial killers � including Jeffrey Dahmer � to make the case that the 25-year-old Salvadoran man is not among “the worst of the worst.” Lemmon also said that Levy displayed a childhood photograph of Ramirez with family members, too. Reached Monday afternoon, Levy sounded upset by the jury’s verdict. “I’m not in a mood to make any kind of a statement. I hope you understand.” Retired Alameda County Public Defender Jay Gaskill, who was not involved in the case, said that based on the nature of the crime and the fact that the victim was a police officer, Ramirez’s lawyers faced extremely tough odds in the penalty phase. “I would have been surprised at anything other than a hung jury lopsided in favor of death, or the death penalty,” he said. Then there was their opponent, he noted. “Orloff is a very good trial attorney. He hasn’t been out in the arena in a long time, but he hasn’t lost any of his skills. He wouldn’t have left any stones unturned,” Gaskill said. Orloff said Monday that two major pieces of evidence sealed Ramirez’s fate: the manner of the killing, which “showed a certain state of mind, a certain viciousness,” and the effect Niemi’s murder had on his family and the San Leandro police. Orloff said one officer who encouraged Niemi to join the police department had testified that he resigned from the police force after the murder “because he could no longer serve the public the way he wanted to, the way Dan wanted to.” “It was really very powerful,” Orloff said.

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