Guilty verdict, life sentence in prison riot murder case

Dec. 12, 2023, 5:30 p.m. ·

Eric Ramos enters court
Eric Ramos enters court following a break in his murder trial. (Photo: Bill Kelly/Nebraska Public Media)

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Nearly seven years ago, Michael Galindo died following a mob attack during a riot at the Tecumseh State Prison. On Tuesday, a Saline County jury found fellow inmate Eric Ramos guilty of taking part in the murder.

The jury began deliberations on Monday afternoon. In a note to the judge, they requested the opportunity to review prison surveillance footage introduced as evidence during the trial.

Eric Ramos sits with defense attorney in District Court.
With an evidence photo displayed on a monitor, Eric Ramos, center, listens to testimony with his defense attorney. (Phone: Bill Kelly/Nebraska Public Media)

Shortly after the jury returned to the Saline County District Court Tuesday morning to resume discussions, they let Judge Rick Schreiner know the verdict was ready to deliver.

In court, the presiding officer of the jury announced they had unanimously agreed Ramos was guilty of murder in the first degree as well as tampering with evidence and use of a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors, lead by the attorneys with from the office of the Nebraska Attorney General, declined to talk to reporters.

Following the verdict a member of the defense team, Tim Noerrlinger, described Ramos as “pretty calm.”

“I think he understands the process. He understands that there's going to be an appeal.”

Noerrlinger said grounds for an appeal includes evidence he says prosecutors withheld from Ramos until nearly the end of the trial. There was reference during testimony to a Department of Corrections report in which an inmate “confesses to another inmate about being involved in the Galindo murder.”

Noerrlinger asked the judge for a mistrial based on withheld evidence. Judge Schreiner ruled against halting the proceedings.

Galindo lived in Scottsbluff and Kearney before being convicted of robbery and sentenced to up to 21 years in prison. He would have had his regular review by the parole board a few weeks after he was killed.

The murder took place during an inmate uprising in a housing unit after correctional officers uncovered a stash of homemade moonshine in one of the cells.

Displaying and analyzing less-that-clear prison surveillance footage dominated the 16 days of testimony. Videos documented Mr. Galindo being chased, beaten and stabbed. However, cameras showing inmates setting fires in the housing unit where he died of smoke inhalation were obscured or disabled. Ramos could not be definitively identified on sight in the footage.

Defense attorney Tim Noerrlinger points to a diagram of the cellblock as State Patrol Investigator Nick Frederick testifies. (Photo: Bill Kelly/Nebraska Public Media)
Evidence photo of cell door burnt during 2017 Tecumseh prison riot
Jurors are shown an evidence photo of the burnt door of cell A2-15 where Michael Galindo was found murdered.

A corrections officer guided the jury through the prison up-rising and murder by piecing together sections of the videos. It seemed to show one of the inmates, thought to be Ramos, participating in the beatings, changing clothes and carrying fiery debris to the neighboring cell block.

The case hinged on whether jurors believed investigators correctly identified and tracked Ramos using the hairline and stained clothing seen in the video.

In opening statements, Johnson County Attorney Ben Beethe conceded the footage doesn't make this "an open and shut case," adding, "I'm sorry to say that things are never usually quite so simple."

Defense attorneys aggressively questioned witnesses about the quality of the videos and the methods used to identify the killer. Ramos has not spoken publicly about the incident, but his legal team maintains he was not the killer.

Several of the 18 inmates listed as potential witnesses for the defense reportedly refused to testify and would not be transported to the Saline County District Court by corrections officers.

Those who did appear offered no conclusive accounts of the assaults, which benefited Ramos.

Nearly seven years later, Ramos remains the only person charged in the assault and killing of Galindo.

On February 2, 2024 Ramos will return to court for sentencing. First degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Additional prison time for two other felonies will be determined by Judge Schreiner after reviewing a pre-sentencing report.

This was the second time Ramos faced a jury for the same murder.

In 2018, then District Court Judge Vicky Johnson declared a mistrial after witnesses from state patrol and corrections officials talked about evidence in violation of a court order.

After a series of appeals, the re-do began with Judge Rick Schreiner, who replaced Johnson following her retirement.