A San Francisco Superior Court jury began deliberating Thursday on whether the stabbing death of a San Francisco mother of two at the hands of her estranged boyfriend in 2000 was murder or manslaughter.
“This was and is a case of domestic violence murder, a man that could not take no for an answer,” prosecutor Liz Aguilar-Tarchi contended to the six-man, six-woman jury.
Aguilar-Tarchi asked the jury to convict Tari Ramirez, 35, of first-degree murder for repeatedly stabbing Claire Joyce Tempongko, a
28-year-old jewelry store worker, in front of her two young children inside her Richmond District basement apartment the evening of Oct. 22, 2000.
A medical examiner found 21 knife wounds on Tempongko's body, Aguilar-Tarchi said.
Ramirez's attorney, public defender Matthew Rosen, acknowledged the case would be “an emotional challenge” to jurors, but urged them to convict his client of voluntary manslaughter for a “horrible and unthinkable
“On that day, Tari never set out to kill anybody. … It was a tragic moment, and a tragic reaction,” Rosen said.
The trial has been watched closely by domestic violence victim advocates, who expressed disappointment earlier this year when another San Francisco Superior Court judge reduced a jury's first-degree murder conviction of William Corpuz, 34, to second-degree murder, for the fatal stabbing of his 31-year-old wife Maria at their Portola District home in
The judge in that case ruled there was insufficient evidence of deliberation before Corpuz slit his wife's throat with a fishing knife, after an argument during which Corpuz said his wife had ridiculed him, making the proper verdict second-degree murder, the judge said.
Corpuz had been previously convicted of abusing Maria in 2003 and had nearly completed 52 weeks of court-ordered domestic violence counseling before the murder.
“Deliberation can happen in an instant,” Aguilar-Tarchi said Thursday.
Aguilar-Tarchi said Tempongko “lived in perpetual fear” of Ramirez, after years of repeated abuse at his hands, including after she had sought and obtained a court-ordered protective order against him.
Ramirez had been arrested three times in 1999 for assaulting Tempongko, and he spent four months in jail for one of the arrests.
A year after her murder, Tempongko's family sued the city of San Francisco, alleging police had failed to transmit their reports to the city's adult probation department, the district attorney's office and the superior court.
The city settled the lawsuit in 2004 by awarding $500,000 to Tempongko's two children.
Aguilar-Tarchi accused Ramirez of “jealous rages” and a “history of power, control, domination, violence” in the relationship, during which Ramirez lived in the home off and on. He moved into another apartment the month before Tempongko's death.
On the afternoon of Oct. 22, Ramirez became furious when he suspected Tempongko had been spending the day with another man and he repeatedly phoned her, demanding to know who she was with, according to Aguilar-Tarchi.
He later confronted Tempongko inside her apartment, with her 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in the next room.
Tempongko's son Justin, now 18, testified during the trial that he alarmed by the shouting and watched from outside a bedroom door as Ramirez grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and stabbed his mother several times in the chest and stomach.
Tempongko bled to death on the floor as Ramirez fled the apartment with the knife, which was recovered a short distance away.
Ramirez, a Mexican citizen, then fled to Cancun, Mexico, where he was arrested by the FBI in 2006.
Rosen told jurors that Ramirez, a restaurant worker who held two jobs and helped support Tempongko's son and daughter, who were not his own, had never planned to kill Tempongko before coming to her apartment.
But during their argument, Ramirez went into shock and stabbed her “without thinking” after she told him she had aborted his child, Rosen said.
Ramirez had been provoked by Tempongko telling him, “I killed your bastard,” Rosen said.
His dream of being a father “ripped out” of his heart, said Rosen, “Tari killed in a heat of passion, brought on by a sudden quarrel, without considering the consequences of his acts.”
“I think that these were two people who didn't have the skills to deal with their issues,” Rosen said.
Aguilar-Tarchi maintained that Ramirez had not been provoked “by any act or words” of Tempongko, and had been “brewing and stewing” in a jealous rage all afternoon.
“He knew what he had to do, he was going to take care of business, once and for all,” Aguilar-Tarchi said.
Bay City News