Aftermath of a murder: Sights a child should never see
On Jan. 20, three young boys watched as their father used a knife taken from their kitchen to stab their mother, Liliana Ruiz, nine times just outside their home in the Landmark Mobile Home Park in north Fayette County.
Jesus Ojeda Jimenez, 34, a Mexican national illegally in this country, was convicted of Ruiz’s murder Thursday and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The after-effects on the young boys, ages 11, 10 and 5 at the time, will likely be felt their entire lives. Fayette County sheriff’s detective Wendy Moulder, the lead investigator on the case, recalled greeting the children four days after the murder to escort them for a forensic interview.
Moulder hugged the two oldest boys “from the side, like young boys do,” conveying her sorrow for not just the loss of their mother but also for what they went through. The 11-year-old tried to halt the attack and held his mother in his arms as she died; the 10-year-old ran to a neighbor’s home to call 911 to summon help.
After Det. Moulder hugged the two oldest children, the 5-year-old son of Jesus Jimenez and Liliana Ruiz reached as high as he could and tightly wrapped a hug around Moulder’s leg.
“He said, ‘Does my momma get to come home today?” Moulder recalled. “I immediately had a lump in my throat and didn’t know what to say.”
The boys’ aunt picked up the child and comforted him in Spanish, and they proceeded to the interview location, Moulder said.
The 11-year-old had to testify in court last week during the murder trial, with his father sitting at a table about 20 feet away and other family members in the courtroom for moral support.
Even though Jimenez admitted to the crime early on, and turned himself in after initially fleeing the scene, Moulder felt an extra burden for the sheriff’s office to provide a solid case to secure a conviction.
“Knowing that not only did those boys lose their mom, but they had to see it,” Moulder said. “Just the totality of the circumstances, them not growing up together, living with this every day ... it stayed in my mind as the investigation was moving along. You can try to not get personal and you just can’t help it sometimes. Your heart gets involved.”
Instead of growing up together in the same house, each of the boys is now living individually with a family member, though all are in the same area, according to testimony in court.
The jury’s verdict came in late Thursday on both murder charges, three counts of cruelty to children in the first degree and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
Superior Court Judge Robert Mack Crawford sentenced Jimenez to a total of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus an additional 40 years in prison.
The jury learned that Jimenez left behind a note, written in Spanish, that asked for forgiveness and also for someone to care for his children.
Defense attorney Marco Corales argued that Jimenez should be found not guilty of the murder charges and instead was guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Corales said Jimenez flew into a rage after Ruiz returned home from having dinner with another man whom Jimenez suspected of having an affair with his wife.
Assistant District Attorney Warren Sellers argued that the case didn’t qualify for that lower charge because the note, along with the fact that Jimenez laid in wait — with a knife in his hand — for Ruiz to come home, was plenty of evidence to prove the crime was premeditated, not a spontaneous reaction.
The jury heard the 911 call for help made by the couple’s 9-year-old son, who had run to a neighbor’s home to call for help. Jurors also saw the photos from the blood-soaked seat of the vehicle Ruiz had exited just prior to the attack.
Jimenez had been deported from the United States in April 2010: two months after he pled guilty to striking Ruiz multiple times in a November, 2009 assault that left her with a number of bruises and abrasions all over her body, a swollen eye and a bloody nose, according to the sheriff’s incident report.
There will be no deportation this time, however, as Jimenez’s next move will be from the Fayette County Jail to the Georgia prison system, which is where he will spend the remainder of his days.