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With dead teen in car, shooting accomplice panicked on drive from Omaha to Wyoming
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With dead teen in car, shooting accomplice panicked on drive from Omaha to Wyoming

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Jose Antonio Ramos thought the sawed-off shotgun was empty — the gun that his 17-year-old friend was playfully pointing at people on Mother’s Day 2020.

When the 17-year-old pulled the trigger, Ramos found out otherwise. The shot blew a hole in the chest of one of his best friends, 15-year-old Manuel Gijon-Villa.

Marcos Garza-Calderon (copy)

Garza-Calderon

That’s when Ramos, then 19, and the shooter, Marcos Garza-Calderon, panicked.

Calderon placed his hands in the gaping wound and the two drove away, Manuel dying and dead in the back seat.

Initially, they thought they would go to the hospital. But, attorneys in the case say, a cocktail of drug use and teen angst led them to drive for hours. Finally, nine hours from home, they ran out of gas and drifted off to the shoulder of a road just off Interstate 80 in central Wyoming. That’s where they left Manuel, to be found later by a Wyoming state trooper.

For that, Douglas County District Judge Michael Coffey sentenced Ramos last week to the equivalent of 3½ to 5 years in prison on charges that he was an accessory to Manuel’s death. The week before, Coffey sentenced Calderon to the equivalent of 8 to 12½ years in prison for manslaughter.

Jose Antonio Ramos (copy)

Ramos

Ramos’ attorney, Randy Paragas of Omaha, said his client is torn apart by what happened to Manuel.

“He’s just broken up,” Paragas said. “These guys were complete friends. There was no animosity involved here. It’s hard to quantify how much remorse my client has.”

In an earlier hearing, Calderon’s attorney told the judge that everyone in the white Toyota Corolla was passing around the shotgun and pointing it at each other that day. Paragas disputes that. Only Calderon was pointing it at people, including a girlfriend and another female friend of the group, Paragas said.

Paragas also took issue with a notion in the community that Ramos was “a snitch.”

“All my client did was tell the truth of what happened that day,” Paragas said.

Had his client not told the truth, Paragas said, he and Calderon both were looking at first-degree murder charges, and the possibility of life in prison. Ramos laid out the tragedy, noting that the three were all friends and that Calderon didn’t mean to shoot Manuel. The three — some of whom had ties to the Sureños gang — had been using cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol prior to the shooting, attorneys say.

Asked why Ramos and Calderon drove across Nebraska and much of Wyoming without seeking help for Manuel, Paragas said they were distraught and frenzied.

“It was a combination of their age and the drugs and alcohol,” Paragas said. “As you know, it’s a combination that leads to horrible decisions.”

After running out of gas near Rawlins, Wyoming, Ramos and Calderon had hitched their way farther west, to Salt Lake City, and were on their way to California. Wyoming detectives caught up with them. Calderon initially didn’t say much other than Manuel “was my homie.”

Manuel’s family has described the then-15-year-old sophomore at Bryan High School as hard-working and earnest, an only boy surrounded by three sisters. Pudgy-cheeked and funny, he used to help his uncle on his painting crew and loved working on cars alongside his father. He would have been on track to graduate from Bryan High School this May.

Calderon eventually described his horror at shooting his friend. At his sentencing hearing, Calderon told Manuel’s family: “For as long as I live, I will never forget what I did to someone I love. It hurts because he was not just like a friend but he was like my brother.”

Likewise, Ramos was beside himself in conversation with detectives.

“It hurts a lot. I know what I did,” he told detectives. “Something happened — something’s in the car that shouldn’t be.”

Paragas said he flew out to Utah to represent Ramos and assess what had happened, as much of society was shutting down at the start of the pandemic. The airports and planes were practically empty. So was his client.

“It was surreal,” he said. “And so sad. Just a terribly sad case.”


What you missed this week in notable Omaha crimes and court cases

This week's local crime and court updates from Omaha World-Herald.

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A 37-year-old man who had threatened his mother and police with a knife was shot in the cheek by an officer.

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An Omaha man who authorities say was selling methamphetamine out of his mother's basement has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

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Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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