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Men Charged with Killing Marilyn Pharis Won’t Face Death Penalty

Two men charged in connection with the violent assault that led to the death of an Air Force veteran in her northwest Santa Maria home 17 months ago will not face the death penalty.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen made the announcement during the Santa Barbara County Superior Court hearing on Thursday regarding the case against Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez, 30, and Jose Villagomez, 21.

"Your honor, the District Attorney (Joyce Dudley) is electing not to seek the death penalty in this case," Bramsen said. "We will be proceeding on life without the possibility of parole."

The men are charged with first-degree murder for attacking 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis, 64, in her home on North Dejoy Street in July 2015, sending her to the hospital with multiple injuries.

She died eight days after the attack.

Since the arrests of the two men, the District Attorney’s Office has said a decision regarding the death penalty would come near the preliminary hearing, which is scheduled to start Monday.

On Thursday, Bramsen, the defendants and their attorneys gathered in the courtroom of Judge John McGregor to confirm they were prepared to proceed with the preliminary hearing.

Ramirez’s attorney, Lori Pedego, initially sought to postpone the preliminary hearing, but withdrew her motion after Bramsen announced the prosecuting team would not seek the death penalty. 

Michael Scott, who represents Villagomez, also confirmed he was prepared to proceed with the preliminary hearing. 

The court has set aside four days, if needed, for the hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists for the men to stand trial.

In addition to first-degree murder, Ramirez and Villagomez face numerous special circumstances, including burglary, mayhem and rape by instrument. Other special circumstances against Ramirez are for torture and use of deadly weapon.

Ramirez also is charged with first-degree burglary.

During defense motions leading up to the preliminary hearing, Pedego contended there was no physical evidence Pharis was sexually assaulted, and that she had denied it to law enforcement and family.

She also had challenged interviews conducted by Santa Maria police with her client in the hours after his arrest.

The preliminary hearing has been delayed previously for various reasons. 

The case has drawn national attention due to Ramirez’s status as an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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