Eyewitnesses describe Austin motel murders

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2001


Wednesday, May 30, 2001

HASTINGS, Minn. – Jorge Ramirez was awakened by a kick to the head when he saw two men robbing his coworkers in a downtown Austin motel last summer.

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Ramirez had been sleeping on the floor of the small hotel room he shared with four others when the men came in, weapons drawn, demanding money, he testified Tuesday.

His uncle, Juan Vincente Ramirez was shot first, Ramirez said. Then the attackers shot and killed Raul Pedro Guiterrez. When they left the motel room, Jorge called police.

Benjamin Morelo Heranandez was in the bathroom, bleeding from gunshot wounds to both arms. Ramirez talked to Guiterrez, who was asking for air. He didn’t really check on his uncle, he said.

&uot;The way I saw them, they way they shot him, I knew he would be dead,&uot; Ramirez testified.

Austin Police officer Jeff McCormick was the first one on the scene. He found Juan Ramirez’ body on the hotel room floor, half behind the door, McCormick told the court Tuesday. Gutierrez’ body lay on the floor by the blood-soaked bed, a chair pulled down over his chest.

Ramirez, a ninth-grader at Highland Park high school, and Arturo Caballaro Duran, 19, were not shot in the incident.

Witnesses to last summer’s shooting deaths of Juan Vincente Ramirez and Raul Pedro Guiterrez fingered Vernon Neal Powers, 28, and Scott Perry Christian, 30, as their assailants, but had difficulty defending the move under cross examination while testifying Tuesday.

Ramirez identified Powers from a police photo during the investigation. He pointed to Powers and Scott Christian in the courtroom, but admitted in cross-examination that he had never seen the defendants before the murders, and hadn’t seen them outside a courtroom since.

|It was dark in the hotel room, the only light coming from a streetlight outside, Ramirez said. The men wore women’s stockings over their faces.

&uot;So it’s dark, you’re startled, the whole thing is happening really fast,&uot; said Scott Christian’s attorney, Rick Smith. &uot;So your description of Mr. Christian was based on two to five minutes in a darkened room while he had a nylon over his face?&uot;

Heranandez also identified the two defendants, but admitted he probably wouldn’t be able to identify them outside the courtroom.

Duran said he rolled into the space between the bed and the wall when the assailants started shooting, he said.

&uot;Since it was dark, I couldn’t tell,&uot; Duran said. &uot;Maybe they also wore masks or something like that.&uot;