RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) – “None of us victim’s are protected. If we were protected, damn it, they would do something,” says Martines’s mother, Carol Wendt.
Back in 1994, Debbie Martines, who was pregnant at the time, was killed by her fiancé Joaquin Ramos, who goes by Jack. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I still hurt so bad,” says Wendt.
In 2010, then Governor Rounds commuted Ramos’s sentence giving him an opportunity for parole every eight months. However the family wasn’t notified, and Donna Cassidy, the victim’s sister, says “as soon as we learned this, we reached out to Governor Rounds at the time, who was going to make the decision, and opposed it vehemently.”
300 people wrote in, but Cassidy says still “nobody would respond to us. To the victims, nobody would respond. So, we actually came to these steps in 2010 and held a press conference and said we will not leave until our voice is heard.”
At last, Governor Round’s agreed to a meeting and the family shared their position.
“He can make you believe that he’s [Ramos] a saint. But, just as bright as that light is, it’s just as dark on the other side and you never want to be on the other side of it.”
Like her daughter was, who was beaten with a pistol before being shot in the shoulder and through the abdomen. Rounds’s opinion changed.
“Had you given your input,” says Cassidy in the voice of Rounds, “I would not have made that decision.” She said, “and we said had you reached out to us we would have told you this.”
It was too late, “Governor Rounds had made the decisions already and he made it because he didn’t have any victim’s input. He couldn’t rescind the sentence,” says Cassidy, “but what he could do is oppose his parole.”
Now, every eight months, Ramos has a chance for parole.
“He stands up there and says how hard it is for him to sit there and apply for parole. Well,” says Wendt, “Jack if it’s so hard for you then stop.”
Since then, Cassidy says Round’s has lived true to his word, opposing Ramos’s parole “and [he’s] shown up to those meeting every single time.”
In 2017, they learned about Marsy’s law, which gives victim’s the right to heard. Officially, as of 2020, it’s been implemented in South Dakota. Cassiday says, “when it was passed we were so excited,” and at first it seemed to be working. “We were getting notifications and then all of the sudden, on at least three occasions, we didn’t get notification.”
There was a full parole board hearing recently where they were meant to be notified and Cassidy says, “it was 42-hours before the hearing that we got notification. This is wrong.”
Cassidy says these officials are required to abide Marsy’s law and they’re not.
“We have to have valid Driver’s License. We have to drive with our seat belts on. If not, we break the law. Does the same not hold true for government officials,” asks Cassidy? “It’s wrong.”
They made the hearing even on the 42-hours notice and learned of another case, Debra Jenner, who stabbed her 3-year-old son to death with a kitchen knife and metal toy airplane in 1987. She was granted parole September 15 and they assume it went something like their case.
“No notification the public. We don’t know if they notified victims. We have no idea. Our experience has been they probably didn’t. It’s terrifying to us, because that could happen to us. It could happen to us that they just decide to have a parole board hearing without letting anybody know, and release our offender,” says Cassidy. Adding that, “our offender will offend again.”
Their family is standing in the rain alongside supporters and other victims, their voices loud and booming like the thunder and advocating that “we’re going to find a way to make these people accountable,” says Cassidy.
These victim’s desperately want to be heard, and under Marsy’s law, they’re legally bound to be.
“They’ve got rights,” says Wendt, “not the damn prisoner.”
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