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Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley and Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin announced that murder charges have been filed against Victor Ramirez and Jose Villagomez.

Daniel Dreifuss for The Santa Maria Times

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley and Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin announced that murder charges have been filed against Victor Ramirez and Jose Villagomez.


Two Men Charged with Santa Maria Woman’s Murder

Victor Martinez and Jose Villagomez Raped, Strangled, and Beat 64-Year-Old Marilyn Pharis


The men accused of sexually assaulting, strangling and beating a Santa Maria woman last month have been charged with murder, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced at a press conference Friday.

Marilyn Pharis, 64, was attacked in her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street on the morning of July 24 as she slept following working a night shift as a satellite tracker operator at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin called the assault “a brutal and vicious attack.”

Police said Pharis was sexually assaulted with a foreign object, strangled and beaten in the head with a hammer, leaving her with two shattered eye sockets and a broken neck, and that Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez and Jose Fernando Villagomez left her for dead.

She died at Marian Regional Medical Center eight days later. Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin said that an autopsy conducted Thursday confirmed that Pharis died as a result of her injuries.

Ramirez, 29, was arrested on the morning of the attack after he was found hiding nearby under a tarp on a backyard patio by a police dog. Villagomez, 20, was arrested Aug. 4, after already being in custody for a probation violation since July 28.

Police said Ramirez broke into another house while fleeing, telling a mother and three children there that he needed to hide from the police.

Martin acknowledged how the case has become a national issue, due to Ramirez’s status as an undocumented immigrant and his prior arrest record.

The police chief laid the blame for Ramirez’s release into the community on policies set forth by the administrations of President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown, as well as Assembly Bill 109 and Proposition 47, which he said led to Ramirez being released when he was arrested on drug charges last month.

I am not remiss to say that, from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, there is a blood trail into the bedroom of Marilyn Pharis,” Martin said.

Ramirez was arrested in May 2014 for felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault, but was not charged with the felony.

Dudley refused to comment why the case was downgraded.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they asked to be notified when Ramirez was released from County Jail on that arrest, but the notification never came.

Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Barney Melekian, speaking because Sheriff Bill Brown is out of the state, said that ICE detainers at that time were a de facto request to hold, which was made illegal by the 2013 California Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act, as well as a federal court case.

Martin said that changes need to come from the federal and state government.

We can all point fingers locally at each other,” Martin said. “ICE can point the finger at the sheriff, they can point it everywhere else, but the reality is it starts at the very top, and it’s not going to get fixed until it gets started at the very top and reached the lower levels.”

Martin said that he has not heard from anyone in federal or state government about the case.

Crickets,” he said.

The men will be arraigned for first-degree murder on Thursday, Dudley said.

Special allegations, such as felony murder with rape by instrument and murder with torture, mean that the men could face the death penalty.

It is too soon in our process for me to make a decision about whether this will be a a death penalty case,” Dudley said.

Martin said that focus should be on the death of Pharis, an Air Force veteran who had worked as a civilian contractor at Vandenberg since 1974.

Despite this incredible beating, Marilyn would not give up,” Martin said after describing the attack. “She fought back with all of the strength that she could possibly muster, even while receiving repeated blows with a hammer.”

The men will be arraigned for first-degree murder Thursday, Dudley said.

Special allegations, such as felony murder with rape by instrument and murder with torture, mean that the men could face the death penalty.

They also are charged with sexual assault and first-degree burglary.

It is too soon in our process for me to make a decision about whether this will be a a death-penalty case,” Dudley said.

If Dudley declines to try the case as a death-penalty case, the men will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ramirez pleaded not guilty Aug. 31 to attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary, the day before Pharis died.

Editor’s Note: After this story first ran, the reporter learned that the May 2014 felony Ramirez [whom the District Attorney now names as Martinez] had been arrested on was reduced to a misdemeanor. This story was changed on August 14 to reflect that fact.

This story was originally published in The Santa Maria Times.



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