Winters murder case gets under way

Published: Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

Yolo County jurors on Thursday began hearing a small-town murder mystery.

Did a Winters woman who both lawyers said was having an affair abandon her family, never to be seen again?

Or did her husband kill her and dispose of her body, which authorities have yet to find?

In opening statements at the Woodland courthouse, prosecutor Robert Trudgen told jurors that a jealous Felipe Cruz Hernandez borrowed a gun from his brother and killed his wife, Leticia Barreles Ramos, while their 9-year-old daughter slept nearby.

Cruz Hernandez rented a carpet cleaner at a local hardware store but failed to get rid of all the evidence, Trudgen said.

FBI investigators helping Winters police found blood on the furniture and under the carpet of the couple's apartment, the prosecutor said. DNA tests are expected to be offered as evidence.

If she'd gone away, Barreles Ramos, a 28-year-old bakery worker, would not have left behind her Mexican passport, $1,000 in cash, "an apartment full of blood and her daughter," Trudgen told the jury.

Defense lawyer Monica Brushia offered a different explanation: Barreles Ramos, who was seeing another man, had departed in the middle of the night, abandoning her daughter and leaving behind her wallet by accident.

Neither the girl nor neighbors had heard a commotion or seen anything amiss, except for one man, who reported hearing a woman weeping and the sounds of quick footsteps on the stairs, Brushia said.

When the girl woke up the next morning, "the only thing that was wrong was her mother was gone," the defense lawyer told jurors.

The daughter will testify, she said.

The arrival of FBI agents and the arrest of Cruz Hernandez, 39, in May shocked the community of 7,000 in western Yolo County.

Winters hasn't had a murder for a dozen years.

The investigation stretched the small police force to its limits.

Multiple searches with cadaver dogs failed to turn up Barreles Ramos' body.

Defense lawyers pushed for a speedy trial, with the absence of a body presenting an additional challenge for prosecutors.

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