Teenager testifies about seeing mother killed

| September 12, 2008

A young man who witnessed his mother fatally stabbed inside their home in the Richmond district when he was 10 years old testified in court Friday that her attacker was the man he had been told at the time to call his father.

“That man right there,” 18-year-old Justin Nguyen told the San Francisco Superior Court jury, pointing to the defendant, Tari Ramirez, when asked by prosecutors who he had seen kill his mother, Claire Joyce Tempongko, on the evening of Oct. 22, 2000.

“He stabbed her,” Nguyen said.

Tempongko and Ramirez had an on-off relationship lasting about two years until then, with Ramirez sometimes living at the home, a basement-level in-law apartment, and though Ramirez was not his or his sister’s father, Nguyen said his mother had told them, “We were to call him daddy.”

Testimony in Ramirez’s murder trial began Monday. He is accused of stabbing Tempongko, a 28-year-old jewelry store worker, in front of both Nguyen and his sister, who was 5 years old at the time, during an argument inside the home.

Ramirez, 35, a Mexican citizen, was arrested by the FBI in June 2006 in Cancun, Mexico.

The case brought scrutiny from domestic violence victim advocates because of Ramirez’s extensive history of domestic violence. Police had arrested Ramirez 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 San Francisco, alleging that police had failed to transmit their reports to The City’s Adult Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office and Superior Court.

The City settled the lawsuit in 2004 by awarding $500,000 to Tempongko’s two children.

Nguyen testified Friday that he remembered a previous occasion when Ramirez grabbed his mother by the hair and dragged her from the apartment into the hallway. He said he then accompanied her to a pay phone down the block to call police.

On Oct. 22, 2000, Tempongko and another man took Nguyen and his sister shopping for Halloween costumes, but when Tempongko and the children came home, an angry Ramirez burst into the apartment, yelling, “Where were you? Who were you with?” Nguyen said.

After five to 10 minutes of yelling, Ramirez grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and stabbed Tempongko repeatedly in the stomach and chest as Nguyen watched in shock from a bedroom entrance nearby, he said. He said he saw his mother fall to the floor, where she was again stabbed.

Ramirez then fled the apartment with the knife, as Nguyen rushed to his mother, told her he loved her, and ran to get help from neighbors, he said.

Nguyen said he hadn’t seen Ramirez again until Friday.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case next week, after which the defense has said it may bring Ramirez to the witness stand to testify.

— Bay City News

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