Keystone woman reflects on mother’s death

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Debbie Martines is shown with her children Justin, left, Augustine and Jackie, right. Martines was killed by her boyfriend while pregnant in 1994 and sentenced to life. Gov. Rounds signed for Joaquin “Jack” Ramos to be pardoned before leaving office.

By Bev Pechan

When Jackie Martines was just a few years past kindergarten, the 8-year-old’s life changed forever. And, thanks to a last minute decision by outgoing Gov. Mike Rounds, it will be changed again forever. Jackie, who is now the wife of Adam McLain of Keystone, is about to deliver her own second child—a girl. She has another daughter, Carrera, 4.
But when Jackie was 6, she and her brothers, Justin, 8, and Augustine, 10, began to live with her mother, Debbie Martines, and a new boyfriend, Joaquin “Jack” Ramos, a man she met through friends at the Blue Lantern bar in Rapid City, where she worked. Ramos worked for a local taxi company.
At first all seemed well, McLain said, but problems soon arose. “Augustine got into trouble at school – Jack believed in harsh punishment and beat him,” she said. At the end of two years, he was sent to live with his grandmother.
But Ramos didn’t stop there.
“He was deceitful – he had a disguise,” McLain said. “He could be a good guy and then change into a whole different person – an evil person.” She said he fooled a lot of people.
For whatever reason, one of the last official acts performed by Gov. Rounds before leaving office was to commute Ramos from his life sentence for killing McLain’s mother and their unborn child in a fit of rage in 1994. Rounds stated publicly at the time that information he had received from the parole board allegedly described Ramos as a “model prisoner” and capable of being returned to society.  Following his announcement, Rounds soon heard from McLain and other family members, who were shocked and outraged at the action and that they had not been contacted for their input. Rounds stated that they were unable to be located. The Rapid City Journal picked up on the story, causing Rounds to go on the defensive over his decision.
McLain, her sister-in-law Kelly Martines, Elisa Durr, a cousin, an aunt, Donna Cassidy, her mother-in-law Sandi McLain and Ramos’ ex-wife met with Rounds and five other persons in Pierre after the pardon was made public, voicing their strong objections to Rounds’ handling of the affair. Rounds also received poor marks for his actions in the series of articles that ran in the Journal after Ramos’ victims and family members came forward and his office was deluged with calls from citizens who demanded justice, according to Sandi McLain, Jackie’s mother-in-law.
Jackie said the meeting with Rounds was stressful, and on the way home, she began having premature labor contractions. She said Rounds seemed to talk down to them and they felt they had gained nothing by the meeting.
“It was as though it was our fault for not giving authorities current addresses,” McLain said, but she added  that with Ramos serving a life sentence, they did not give it much thought, as the horror of the tragedy was finally behind them and none had any idea he might ever be released. And, she stated, that while Rounds told them he had the request for a commutation on his desk for two years and claimed he had not heard from the victim’s family,  Sharon Callahan, who works in victim’s assistance, “looked up addresses (while they were there) and found it just like that.”
By the time the women left the meeting with Rounds, they felt Rounds had not really listened to them.
However, the governor apparently reconsidered after receiving bad press and after meeting with the women. He later admitted that he may not have considered all avenues and attempted to change his directive.  But Rounds  was informed that once he had signed the document, he could not rescind his action, although he could cause Ramos’ appeals for parole to be denied.
Rounds assured McLain that he would not allow parole for Ramos to be granted at any future hearings, but as Rounds no longer occupies the governor’s seat, McLain and her group are wondering what the future will bring with a new administration. Ramos’ first parole hearing since Rounds’ December 2010 decision will take place at the end of July and Ramos can request a hearing every eight months thereafter while serving his life sentence. That means that McLain and her supporters will have to personally appear at each hearing for many years to come and relive the experience over and over to ensure that Ramos is not released into society.
If he is ever paroled, “I am positive he would come looking for all of us,” McLain said without hesitation.
“He (Ramos) used to beat my mom in front of us, ripping her hair and throwing her into walls. We feared for our lives. He had two pistols at all times and threatened to kill her if she ever left him,” McLain recalled. She said her mother didn’t leave because she knew he would come after them.
“He threatened to kill us in our sleep,” she said.
McLain said her mom was good about protecting her children and “would rather have him beat her than me.” But, McLain added, Ramos began touching her inappropriately when she was seven or eight. Justin was nine or 10 and when her mother went to work, it was Justin’s job to protect his sister on the days Ramos’ hours were different.
“On the days he had off, we had to look out for each other,” McLain said.
On the night Debbie Martines was killed, Ramos was highly agitated.
“We were not allowed to eat dinner without him,” McLain said. “We had school the next day and at 11 p.m., he still wasn’t home.”
Her mother didn’t have a car and called a cab to go and look for him. While she was gone, Ramos showed up and was enraged that Martines was not there. She returned home a short time later.
“I think his idea was to kill her, but not for the gun to go off,” McLain said.
A friend brought him home and when the friend’s wife saw Ramos’ reaction, she got the two children out of the house and into her car, while the friend had Ramos pinned on the floor. Debbie Martines told them that she could handle Ramos, and brought the children back into the house, McLain said.
“Jack was running to the car with a gun and was going to shoot his friend when mom tried to intervene. He grabbed her by the hair and pistol-whipped her and the gun went off,” McLain said. “I remember me and my brother holding each other’s hand. We both jumped and ran to mother and tried to get her up. She was dead—I didn’t think she was dead—I thought she was unconscious.”
McLain said, “five or six people called the police—friends and neighbors. When Jack realized what he did, he bent down and tried to be remorseful. He knew he was in trouble – he was not crying, but trying to wake her up. The next thing we remembered was that the police had him hand-cuffed and EMTs were doing CPR on our mother.”
At the police station, the siblings waited several hours until officials had contacted their Aunt Dotty and took them to her.
“Can we see mom?” McLain recalled asking. “We didn’t realize she was dead at the time.”
McLain said also that Ramos had a previous history of violent acts against others and stated that his ex-wife told her family that not only was Ramos violent and abusive, but that his father was the same way and that Ramos’ mother often defended them both, “thinking they had done no wrong.”
It’s a situation that should never have happened, McLain feels. What happens next is up to the board of pardons and paroles and newly-seated Gov. Dennis Daugaard, but she and those wanting to keep Ramos in prison for life are not giving up.
“It’s never going to be over, but we’re going to fight it,” she said.