The triple-murder trial of an accused MS-13 gang member, whose case brought the country’s immigration debate to the steps of San Francisco City Hall three years ago, is set to officially begin today.
Edwin Ramos, 25, is accused in the June 2008 fatal shootings of Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16. Attorneys will present opening arguments this morning.
The case was overshadowed by accusations that The City’s sanctuary policy contributed to the slayings. Media reports had suggested Ramos had been in the country illegally, but had not been deported when he was previously arrested as a juvenile. A lawsuit filed by the Bologna family against The City was later thrown out of court.
Ramos’ attorneys have said Ramos entered the country legally from his native El Salvador on a tourist visa, but overstayed it. They also claim he left the gang prior to the killings.
In July 2008 — as Ramos’ case entered the national debate and prompted fiery demonstrations in front of City Hall by both immigrant rights groups and conservative Minutemen — then-Mayor Gavin Newsom clarified city policy to begin referring undocumented juvenile felony suspects to federal immigration authorities.
But Ramos’ immigration status will likely be a sidelight during the trial. Prosecutors are focused on trying to prove that when Ramos came upon the Bologna’s vehicle, he was an active gang member who was driving through the Excelsior district looking to retaliate for the earlier shooting of an MS-13 member. Police said Ramos may have mistaken the family for rival gang members.
Ramos told police after his arrest he was the driver, but another man in the car fired the shots. His attorneys say Ramos “had no idea” the other man was going to shoot. A surviving Bologna son, however, testified at a 2009 hearing that Ramos was the gunman.
The trial, which is expected to last for months, could feature testimony by gang informants who cooperated with federal agents. Authorities have successfully targeted the gang’s 20th Street clique in the Mission district in recent years.