A couple of days after a federal witness was executed by a Colombian hit team, Yuby Ramirez was making a meal in her Kendall townhouse for the crew’s boss, who went by the name Tocayo.
As they watched the news of the 1993 killing of Bernardo Gonzalez Jr. — gunned down outside his rural West Miami-Dade home — she noticed Tocayo smiling as the TV flashed images of accused Miami drug lords Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon in orange jumpsuits.
Ramirez did not know the men pictured in the prison uniforms — the infamous Miami Senior High School dropouts charged with smuggling 75 tons of cocaine into the country — or their connection to the murder victim.
Tocayo told her that the duo “now had to pay the office” for the death of Gonzalez, who had cut a deal with the feds to testify against the two at their drug-trafficking trial. “Snitches end up dying by squashing,” Tocayo told Ramirez in Spanish. “Flies don’t come into a closed mouth.”
Ramirez, then 22, never saw her short-term boyfriend again after that June afternoon, but Tocayo, who vanished to Colombia, haunts her to this day.
Ramirez wound up being sentenced to life in prison for her bit part in Gonzalez’s murder, directed by Tocayo, a killer of snitches for the Cali cartel back in the 1980s and ’90s, when Miami was a much bloodier place. But in something of a “legal miracle,” as Ramirez described it, she was released from prison last May and from immigration custody in late February — lucky to be spared deportation to her native Colombia after 13 years behind bars.
“I’m enjoying every minute of my life, everything that I’ve been kept from, especially my daughters,” Ramirez, 41, told The Miami Herald, as she held her 22-year-old daughter Yuly’s hand during an interview last week. She also has a 24-year-old daughter, Yury. After her arrest in 2000, they were raised by her ex-husband in Miami.
Ramirez won her freedom after showing that her original defense attorneys messed up when they advised her to reject a five-year plea offer from Miami prosecutors before her 2001 trial. Her federal public defenders later admitted they had never advised her that, if convicted of Gonzalez’s murder, she faced life in prison.
In fact, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard found that her lawyers gave her such bad advice that her sentence should be thrown out and prosecutors gave her a new plea deal for time served.
Ramirez’s Miami appellate attorney, David O. Markus, who took her case at no charge, wrote in a court pleading in 2004: “The mistakes that her lawyers made in this case cost Ms. Ramirez her life.”Getting her freed involved a decade-long legal odyssey.
“David kept telling me that he was going to fight until the end,” said Ramirez. “He would always say, ‘Hang in there. Keep your hopes up.’ ”
Markus, who was assisted by lawyer Robin Kaplan, called Ramirez’s long-shot victory a “once in a lifetime case.” But after her release from federal prison in Tallahassee, Ramirez was still held in immigration custody as she faced the bleak prospect of deportation to her native Colombia because she was not a U.S. citizen.
Enter Miami criminal-immigration lawyer Regina De Moraes, who also took on her case at no charge. She persuaded an immigration judge in an asylum petition to block Ramirez’s deportation — another rare victory.