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Inmates to stand trial

victim stabbed 196 times

January 12, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

Three county jail inmates will stand trial on charges they murdered Ramon Eugene Paleo, 22, of El Centro who was stabbed 196 times in the county jail Oct. 22.

After a preliminary hearing that lasted several days, Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras ruled there is enough evidence for Angel Francisco Ayala, 25, Armando Valenzuela Leal, 24, both of El Centro, and Gustavo Vega, 24, of Calexico to stand trial for Paleo's murder. Contreras also found an allegation of torture could be taken to trial.

Ayala and Leal also were bound over for trial for the attempted murder of Genaro Ramirez Ponce, 22, of Imperial, who was choked and stabbed in the incident. Vega was not bound over on that count.

Testimony at the trial indicated Paleo may have been targeted because he was going to testify in a court case.

According to county Sheriff's Office officials, jail staffers had let inmates in module Delta stay up past their 10 p.m. curfew the night before the murder as a reward for good behavior and keeping the module clean all week. At 1:10 a.m. correctional staff told the inmates to report to their cells.

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When staff returned minutes later, they found Paleo upstairs in his cell and Ponce in the module's dayroom. Paleo had been stabbed 196 times. Ponce had been stabbed and choked with a tether.

Local officials and prosecutors have made great efforts to protect Ponce since the incident. Ponce testified at length this week about the events in Paleo's cell as he fought for his life. Ayala allegedly held Paleo, who was struggling to push a button that would open his cell door.

Ponce testified he saw Ayala and Leal come out of Paleo's second-floor cell after the incident.

Defense lawyers argued that fingerprints and palm prints taken from Paleo's door did not match those of Ayala, Leal or Vega.

Jail cells line the walls of the rounded two-story module on the first and second floors. The area in the middle of the module is open, with picnic-style tables and benches bolted to the floor. Televisions are bolted high on the walls.

Vincent Basco Abiña, 41, Eddie Camacho, Jr., 23, and James Garcia, 21, all of El Centro, and Hector Corona, 32, of Calipatria were charged as accessories in the murder of Paleo. During the preliminary hearing, there was testimony that Abiña took Ayala's and Leal's jail clothing into the showers to be rinsed and brought a mop or broom upstairs to Paleo's cell to clean up after the attack.

Abiña and Camacho were released in November on their own recognizance after their attorneys convinced a judge they had served their time on other charges and would return for court hearings in the Paleo matter.

Garcia and Corona are still in jail on parole violation holds despite being granted releases in the jail murder case. A judge rescinded a release order for Garcia after he reportedly refused to agree to terms of the release. His bail was then reset at $500,000.

A total of 35 inmates, all housed in the module where the attacks occurred, were booked on criminal charges in regard to the incident, although no charges have yet been filed against some of those inmates.

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