Jurors in prison riot murder trial hear evidence of homemade weapons, torches used in arson

Nov. 20, 2023, 7 p.m. ·

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

Testifying in the murder trial of Eric Ramos, the first investigators on the scene at the Tecumseh State Correctional Facility in 2017 painted a vivid picture of what it was like as they collected evidence in the hours after prisoners had rioted.

Describing the crime scene, one state patrol investigator told the courtroom, “It was just a mess.”

Inmate Ramos is the only identified suspect in the killing of 31-year-old Michael Galindo during the chaotic uprising. According to testimony, before the security regained control of the prison, guards and an arson investigator watched on a video feed as a small group of inmates used improvised torches made of towels to set Galindo’s cell on fire.

Early stages of the trial have focused on evidence collected in the hours following the riot at the Tecumseh facility. Prosecutors with the State Attorney General presented the jury with photos and video showing the debris and remnants of small fires in the residence area labeled 2A.

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.

State Patrol investigator Nick Frederick described wading through water left behind from firehoses in the cell block. He told the jury, “It was just a mess.”

“There had been fires, so there was smoke in the air,” he testified. “A lot of things were wet because of the fires, and there was debris everywhere because of the vandalism and the destruction that went on.”

Frederick and other investigators collected prison clothing in the outdoor courtyard, and various metal objects were left on the ground. Some items were sifted out of the ashes of a small bonfire.

Frederick believed some items were “improvised weapons because they could be used as weapons.”

“They’ve got a handle around them,” he told the jury. “People will wrap cloth around them so they don’t hurt their hands while they’re using those.”

Last week, prosecutors produced a photo of Galindo’s bare back taken after his body was discovered in cell 2A-15. It showed dozens of tiny stab wounds, likely caused by shivs they said, the slang for homemade prison weapons. Surveillance footage showed he was still alive when he crawled into the cell, which was set afire. An autopsy indicated he died of smoke inhalation.

The jury was shown photos of the cell with the walls blackened by smoke. Prison officers found Galindo lying face down, covered with the residue of the fire extinguishers.

Prosecutors claim Eric Ramos was part of a group that descended on Galindo during the cell block disturbance. Still, the surveillance footage of the incident is low quality, and no eyewitnesses have come forward.

Arson investigator Andrew Kreikmeier, who was working with the Nebraska State Fire Marshall at the time, watched the video feed in a security station as the insurrection took place. He testified no one with the prison singled out or identified Ramos in the small group that approached Galindo’s cell with torches.

In opening arguments, an attorney representing Ramos called the investigation “totally inept.” During questioning by the defense lawyers, the investigators conceded some evidence may have been cross-contaminated before it got to the state patrol crime lab. Other items were not processed and apparently left behind at the prison.

This trial is the second time Ramos has faced a jury. A judge cut short his first trial after witnesses bungled the video evidence collection during the proceedings. That also prompted moving the new trial to Saline County to ensure there was an untainted pool of jurors.

The trial is expected to conclude early in December.