A look back at Erik’s Law and the murder that fueled the proposed bill

Erik Ingebretsen

 

After California Assembly Bill 665, known as Erik’s Law, failed to make it out of committee last month, Devin Lombardi and Assemblyman James Gallagher say they are continuing their efforts to reform current laws that allow juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to receive automatic parole hearings after serving 25 years of their sentence.

The bill, named in honor of Lombardi’s older brother, Erik Ingebretsen, who was brutally murdered by his friends in July 1997, was authored by Gallagher in February 2019 to reform provisions of current law to ensure that juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole aren’t provided an automatic parole hearing. It would repeal parts of Senate Bill 394, signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 as part of a criminal justice reform package.

“We have to have some protections in place to keep those individuals in prison; that they shouldn’t be automatically eligible for parole,” said Gallagher.

Lombardi said that while Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, noting that the bill failed in the Jan. 14 hearing, he also acknowledged the need to continue the conversation.

Lombardi said she and Gallagher are in the process of arranging meetings, in hopes of coming to some sort of compromise on the bill that would work for and benefit both sides.

“Right now we are seeking input, information, data and statistics from professionals in law enforcement, the department of corrections, and prison psychiatry/psychology for certain areas pertaining to juvenile crime, juvenile recidivism, juvenile parole board processes, etc. in preparation for our meeting,” said Lombardi.

“I am not overly hopeful, but am remaining optimistic.”

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Here’s a look back at the murder of Lombardi’s brother, which sparked the push for the reform of current laws. Information was taken from back issues of the newspaper, but mostly from court transcripts.

“If you can’t trust your friends, you can’t trust anybody,” said Joanne Ferraiuolo, an acquaintance of the Ingebretsen family, outside the Colusa County Superior Court 23 year ago after she attended a fitness hearing that determined that Nathan Ramazzini would be tried as an adult for the murder of his friend Erik Ingebretsen.

For more than 20 years, Ramazzini has been serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the gruesome murder that occurred in July 1997. Years later, many are still wondering what would cause a 16-year-old to turn on a best friend since childhood and in such a brutal manner?

Ramazzini took the stand during a re-sentencing hearing in October 2018 to address just that, shedding new light on the crime and straying from the stories he had told for more than two decades.

“It made me feel like I had some sense of control over a situation, the situation that we agreed upon,” said Ramazzini on the stand about the agreement he had made with accomplice Leopoldo J. Contreras Jr. “I decided to kill Erik and at that point I felt like there was no going back.”

For decades, Ramazzini has said that he had been a reluctant participant in the murder to prove himself to his newly acquired group of older friends but admitted during the resentencing hearing that he was the catalyst for the murder, stating that Ingebretsen would still be alive if it wasn’t for him.

Ramazzini explained that when he was a freshman in high school he started hanging out with a group of boys from the junior class, a group that included Contreras.

“I felt kind of lucky to be hanging out with them because they were older,” said Ramazzini. “They were cooler kids. And when I came into high school, that’s who I wanted to gravitate towards.”

According to Ramazzini, this group of boys was prone to acts of mischief, including drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, vandalism, arson and burglary.

“I went along with it because at that point I was totally immersed in the group,” said Ramazzini. “I felt like I finally found a (group) that totally accepted me no matter what.”

Ingebretsen had somewhat befriended this group of older boys as well, said Ramazzini, but after tagging along on one occasion where they had vandalized something, Ingebretsen voiced his opposition to the mischief. This caused animosity between himself and the group, especially with one boy in particular. Animosity grew over time, leading that boy to attack Ingebretsen one day at school which got him expelled, increasing the anger and resentment of that boy, said Ramazzini.

According to Ramazzini, the idea of killing Ingebrestsen came about just three days before the murder as a way for him to “be down,” a slogan the group had that meant to back up each other no matter what.

“My motive for killing Erik was to be there for Leo,” said Ramazzini. “To be down, be a part of this group that I felt I was part of.”

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The day of the murder: 

Ingebretsen, a 16-year-old Colusa High School student, had just gotten off work at Holiday Market, the grocery store that is now Sav-Mor Foods in Colusa, on July 15, 1997, when he saw his friends, Ramazzini and Contreras, waiting in the parking lot. Ramazzini drove the three out to a secluded spot north of town, claiming he wanted to show them something. When Ingebretsen didn’t return home by the next morning, a community-wide search ensued complete with county, state and federal investigators.

Ramazzini said he slept in that morning, not wanting to deal with the day, knowing he had just killed his best friend but his mother woke him up and drove him to the search party headquarters.

“I went to the search party and was just going through the motions,” said Ramazzini. “I was just doing what was expected of me.”

He also admitted to sending electronic messages to Ingebretsen to keep up appearances.

Ingebretsen’s body was discovered July 17, 1997, abandoned in a wooded area along the Sacramento River with cuts on the back of the head, a deep gash on his neck that went to the bone and four stab wounds to the chest. Additional stab wounds were also found on his abdomen and the right side of his body.

Ramazzini admitted having a baseball bat and a butcher knife ready in his car when they drove Ingebretsen out to the woods on that fateful night.

In his testimony, Ramazzini said he hit Ingebretsen with the bat four times, delivering what a forensic pathologist testifying at the original trial called “death blows.”

“I had anger inside within me, and I believe I directed it towards Erik when I murdered him,” said Ramazzini.

During his cross examination of Ramazzini, Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp asked Ramazzini to explain a statement he had made about feeling powerful while murdering his friend.

“The power that I was talking about was taking everything that I felt, everything that had gone on in my life and being able to get rid of it,” said Ramazzini. “And I did that to Erik.”

Beauchamp responded, “That is the first time we are hearing that, that there was catharsis by murdering your best friend that was freeing you of childhood problems and childhood insult and all those things you told us earlier?”

“I think that factors in, yes,” said Ramazzini.

Earlier in his testimony, Ramazzini had painted the picture of a childhood where he felt lonely, abandoned by his busy working parents whom he was never able to communicate with. He also said that his father had caught a friend molesting him when he was 9 and never did anything about it.

Beauchamp pointed out that Ramazzini had indicated during two different psychological evaluations, one done before he was sentenced in 1998, and one done for the resentencing hearing in 2018, that he had an idyllic childhood and had never indicated any type of molestation or misconduct.

Ramazzini confirmed that he had lied on multiple occasions about his childhood as well as details about the murder, skewing the results of both psychological evaluations that concluded he was a well-adjusted individual with no signs of serious mental health disorders.

Ramazzini said during his testimony that, “Erik didn’t deserve this. I betrayed his trust,” but admitted that he never thought about any ramifications that may come from taking a life.

“After I realized I’d made a mistake,” said Ramazzini. “I realized that what I had done was beyond cruel. The thought of doing it before, there was a sense of detachment, but afterwards it was real, and it was gruesome and it was horrible, and it was final.”

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The aftermath:

Even with a bit more insight into why Ingebrestsen’s life was suddenly cut short, the pain caused by his murder lives on for the many touched by him during his short life.

“What an incredible wrong was dealt to him,” said Erik’s mother Valorie Ingebretsen in a 2002 interview. “His future was wiped out. They took away his entire future, his goals, his dreams, his opportunity to marry, have children, everything … I will forever struggle with the fact that Erik’s life was so selfishly and hatefully ended. This is a forever thing. There will never be closure. There is none, absolutely none.”

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