By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A man implicated himself in his roommate's murder through his use of a public library computer that led detectives to the body, a prosecutor said today, but a defense attorney argued the evidence just as likely could show the Iraq War veteran's death could have been a suicide or accidental.
Kwang Chol Joy, 55, of Orange is charged with the murder of 36-year-old Maribel Ramos. Her body was found in mid-May last year, about two weeks after she was reported missing in Modjeska Canyon near Santiago Canyon and Jackson Ranch roads.
Ramos, a U.S. Army sergeant who did two tours of duty in Iraq, was just days away from graduating with a bachelor's degree from Cal State Fullerton when she vanished, Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons said.
Ramos met Joy when he answered her Craigslist ad for a roommate to share her two-bedroom apartment in Orange, but she wanted him out when he couldn't pay the rent, Simmons said.
The relationship grew so tense that Ramos called 911 on April 21 last year, less than two weeks before she was reported missing. In the 911 tape played for jurors today, a distraught Ramos is heard telling a dispatcher how a recent conversation with the defendant had frightened her so much that she felt compelled to sleep with a machete at arm's length.
She told her boyfriend in a phone call the night of May 2 that she and Joy had an "intense argument," and she was "freaked out" when Joy started "cussing" at her, the prosecutor said.
Ramos' boyfriend, Paul Lopez, via speaker phone, told Joy that if he failed to move out by the next day, Lopez would "help" him remove his belongings from the apartment, Simmons said.
The prosecutor showed surveillance video at the apartment complex that depicted Ramos paying her rent just after 8:15 p.m. on May 2, "the last time she was seen alive," Simmons said.
Ramos did not respond to her boyfriend's text or voice messages the next morning. Police forced their way into the apartment when friends asked officers to do a check on her, Simmons said.
Meanwhile, Joy was parked outside in a rented Dodge Avenger and called police to say he was "concerned" about the police presence, Simmons said. The defendant later told investigators that he was scoping out his own residence because he feared Lopez would show up and carry out his threat, the prosecutor said.
Police questioned Joy about 10 times, but investigators were stumped about the victim's whereabouts until the defendant, who did not have Internet access, was monitored using a public library's computer to search for information on how long it takes for a body to decompose, Simmons said.
Investigators noted Joy had cuts and scratches on his arms, legs and face, which he attributed to uncoiling fishing line he saw in bushes at Eisenhower Park that had in the past ensnarled local ducks, Simmons said.
Joy, however, could not explain the cuts to his face, and he lied about having any other injuries until police caught him with wounds on his leg, Simmons said.
Joy, meanwhile, conducted multiple interviews with TV news reporters saying he was concerned about his roommate and hoped investigators would find her, Simmons said.
Investigators had set up surveillance with software on the library computers when more traditional tailing of the defendant turned up nothing, he said.
An investigator monitoring Joy's web browsing May 16 last year "got a break" when he saw the suspect had read an article online about a planned search for Ramos, which led Joy to look for a satellite image of the site where the body was later found, Simmons said. Within 45 minutes, police found Ramos' body.
Barbed wire was found in the area around the grave site, and the body was so badly decomposed and ravaged by wild animals that investigators needed dental records to confirm the victim's identity, Simmons said. The body's badly deteriorated state prevented investigators from determining the cause of death.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I would submit to you that the defendant did a virtual drive-by of where he dumped the body," Simmons said. "The defendant led us to the body."
Joy's attorney, Adam Vining of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, predicted the evidence presented to the jury will only prove a "tragedy" occurred.
"The crime that will be proven here is improper disposal of a body," Vining said.
Based on "discoloration" of the victim's teeth, it's possible she drowned in her bath tub and the defendant found her and "feared" telling police what happened because he had been arguing with her over rent money, Vining said.
Ramos also had a problem with drinking too much and was paranoid, Vining said.
"She's a strong woman, a capable woman," Vining said of the victim. "But she also had (post-traumatic stress disorder), she suffered from paranoia, she suffered from hyper-vigilance and Maribel had difficulty controlling her emotions."
It's also possible Ramos died "accidentally" during a conflict with the defendant, Vining said.
The two were friendly at one point -- they went on a Caribbean cruise together and had an "intimate" relationship at times, Vining said, showing jurors a photo of Joy kissing Ramos.
Investigators "cannot rule out voluntary manslaughter," Vining said, indicating that the victim was killed in "the heat of passion" during an argument.
Vining also suggested Ramos could have been killed by someone else, telling the jury that she had a "risky lifestyle" of partying and meeting strangers online and dating them.