Standing before the jury with a shotgun in his hands, Chief Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt slid the action back and forth in an otherwise silent courtroom Tuesday trying to demonstrate guilt in a 31-year-old Los Banos homicide.
After the prosecutor's dramatic presentation, a jury took just two hours to return a guilty verdict in the first-degree murder trial of 64-year-old Ronald Miranda.
Before the verdict was reached, both the prosecution and the defense gave closing arguments in the slaying that occurred Nov. 15, 1980.
Miranda showed up at his estranged wife's house in the early-morning hours that day and shot her friend, 45-year-old Mitch Arambel, to death with the shotgun Nutt exhibited during the trial.
Deputy Public Defender Caleb Hegland, Miranda's attorney, said his client was disappointed. Miranda sat stoically after the verdict was read.
"I believe in my defense. I thought we had a real shot at beating the murder charges, and I am of course disappointed," Hegland said.
He added that there were two factors that probably had a lot to do with the guilty verdict -- that Miranda was on the run for 31 years and two shots were fired.
Nutt said the guilty verdict was a relief, and shows that the legal system works.
Sheriff Mark Pazin agreed with that sentiment.
Pazin, who was working as a deputy when the crime happened, said the conviction was a testament to the preservation of evidence, and collaborative work between the Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's Office.
Arrest in Florida
After three decades on the run, Pazin said, Miranda had plenty of time to re- evaluate his life, but he acted out again when he was arrested in Florida last year on suspicion of threatening staff with a firearm at a restaurant.
The sheriff didn't believe the "dubious" post-traumatic stress disorder argument used by the defense. "I wasn't buying that at all," he said.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors claimed Miranda made a conscious decision to kill Arambel when he saw the man in his wife's house after he had tried to reconcile with her.
On the other hand, the defense asserted that Miranda, a veteran of the Vietnam War, killed Arambel because he was suffering from PTSD.
During his closing arguments, Nutt tried to establish that Miranda had a motive and made a conscious decision to kill Arambel as he described the night of the homicide.
Miranda's estranged wife, Debra Brown, had gone to dinner with her friend, Arambel. The pair went back to Brown's home and had fallen asleep on her couch. Miranda, who had been drinking, then showed up after driving by and seeing lights on in the house, Nutt said. He looked in a window and saw the back of a man's head on the couch.
"The normal person would just walk away," Nutt told the jury Tuesday.
But instead, Miranda started banging on the back door and eventually kicked it in, entering the home with a shotgun, Nutt said. Brown tried to wrestle the shotgun away from him, but she was unable to.
Miranda then pointed the shotgun at Arambel, who was sitting on the couch, Nutt said. Despite Arambel's pleas of, "No, Ron, no!" Miranda fired, striking the victim in the side.
After Arambel fell, Miranda walked over and shot him in the back, Nutt said.
"He's got some plan, he's got some focus, he's making conscious decisions as he goes," Nutt said as he made his case for a first- degree murder conviction in his closing argument.
30 years in hiding
After the second shot, Miranda walked into the kitchen, put his face in his hands, then left the scene, Nutt said.
He disappeared for more than 30 years, taking on the alias "Richard Gamble" until his arrest by Florida City, Fla., police last year.
Near the end of the trial, Miranda stayed quiet and still, only shaking his head slightly at one point during Nutt's closing arguments.
Hegland gave a much shorter closing argument Tuesday, and maintained that Miranda killed Arambel because of the PTSD he suffered through after coming back from the Vietnam War.
"We know this because of the horrors he experienced in Vietnam," Hegland said, adding that Miranda was severely wounded and nearly killed during his time in the war.
In Vietnam, when Miranda saw "his people" in trouble, he tried to help them, Hegland said during his closing arguments Tuesday.
When he drove by Brown's home and saw the lights on, he thought something wasn't right and his subsequent actions were the result of hypervigilance and what he perceived as a threat at the time.
However, several details throughout the case proved that there was a purpose and a will behind what Miranda did, Nutt argued, noting that for many years, Miranda lied about who he was.
"His whole life was a lie," Nutt said. "He assumed a different identity."
Straying from the norm, there was some interaction between an attorney and those in the audience Tuesday.
While wrapping up his first argument, Nutt motioned toward two men in the audience wearing military uniforms, and told the jury not to allow the presence of uniformed men to create sympathy.
The move drew an immediate objection from Hegland.
Nutt also said he heard someone in the audience say, "I hope you're done" during his arguments.
Judge Ronald Hansen stepped in, telling the jury to disregard anything about the appearance or comments of those in the audience.
Hansen will sentence Miranda to 25 years to life in prison May 15. By the time Miranda is eligible for parole, he will be nearly 90 years old.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.