A 63-year-old Los Banos homicide suspect who was captured earlier this year after more than three decades on the run made his first appearance Wednesday in Merced County Superior Court.
Ronald Miranda was arrested April 8 in Florida City, Fla. He was wanted in the Nov. 15, 1980, shooting death of 45-year-old Mitch Arambel. Appearing in Los Banos court, Miranda stood quietly during the arraignment hearing and pleaded not guilty to one count of murder. Commissioner Harry Jacobs set Miranda's preliminary hearing for Oct. 19.
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said there will be obvious challenges in prosecuting a 31-year-old case. For example, he said, some of the original detectives in the case have retired.
Regardless, Morse said none of the obstacles the prosecution faces are "insurmountable," in terms of getting a conviction. "(The victim's family) has waited for 30 years for justice," Morse said. "We are going to do everything in our power to make sure it's not delayed."
Morse expects Miranda's estranged wife, named Debra Miranda at the time, to be involved in the case, calling her the most important witness.
Also, the case will be governed by the laws at the time of the incident, and not as they stand today.
"There are a number of things that we're having to look at and ensure that we are all squared away, in terms of the sentencing and all those kinds of things," Morse said.
Michael Coughlin, the deputy public defender handling Miranda's case, wasn't immediately available for comment.
Witnesses said Miranda shot Arambel, killing him on Nov. 15, 1980, inside the home of Miranda's estranged wife.
Miranda forced his way into the home, witnesses said, around 3 a.m., where he found Arambel and his estranged wife. Morse said the defendant and his wife wrestled for the gun. She ran to the phone to call police, and heard two gunshots. Miranda then walked out, sat at a table and put his head in his hands, saying something like, "I can't believe I did this."
He then left the scene. In the days after the shooting, some people had managed to contact Miranda, including a Los Banos police officer, trying to convince the suspect to turn himself in.
But Miranda disappeared and eventually moved to Florida, living under the alias of "Richard Gamble." He was arrested by Florida City police for allegedly threatening fellow restaurant employees with a gun, but left police custody after being released on bail. Florida City police then learned his true identity after entering his fingerprints into a nationwide database, and took him into custody again.
Miranda was sent back to Merced County last month.
Merced Sun-Star Managing Editor Victor Patton contributed to this story.