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Uncertainty over whether Richard Ramirez would face trial in new slaying cases

October 23, 2009 |  7:39 am

Serial killerDespite the new investigation into Bay Area slayings connected to "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez, it remains unclear whether the serial killer would ever stand trial in the cases.

San Francisco police announced Thursday that DNA evidence had linked Richard Ramirez, the Southern California serial killer, to the 1984 slaying of a 9-year-old girl. Detectives this week took DNA evidence from Ramirez, who is on death row at San Quentin State Prison, and said they are building a case against him.

But officials have not said whether Ramirez would stand trial -- even if authorities find enough evidence to charge him.

Ramirez was long considered a suspect in the 1985 slaying of a 66-year-old man, Peter Pan, in San Francisco's Lake Merced district. The man's wife was also attacked but survived.

That attack occurred during the series of murders Ramirez committed in Southern California. After he was arrested, L.A. prosecutors charged him with crimes here, and he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

But Ramirez was never charged in that San Francisco attack.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the SFPD long considered Ramirez a prime suspect in the 1984 slaying of chef and restaurant owner Masataka Kobayashi. Again, no charges were filed.

Ramirez was convicted in 1989 of 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. But, delayed by problems in getting him a lawyer and preparing the voluminous trial transcript, Ramirez's direct appeal was not heard by the California Supreme Court until June 2006. His convictions and death sentence were affirmed two months later.

Ramirez is continuing the appeals process. If he is charged with additional killings, it remains unclear whether authorities would take him off death row to face new trials. After Ramirez was convicted of the Southern California killings, San Francisco prosecutors decided not to charge him in the Pan case.

The unsolved case of the young girl's killing was reopened five years ago when Police Inspector Holly Pera recalled it from her days as a young patrol officer.

"That's part of the reason why the case was relooked at," Pera said during a news conference. "It's the type of case -- as a new officer, a case involving a little girl -- that you can't forget."

On April 10, 1984, Mei Leung was found dead in the basement of a residential hotel in the Tenderloin district, police said. Investigators did not release details about the slaying.

Police said Mei lived at the hotel with her family. Before her death, she and her 8-year-old brother were seen walking home from a friend's house.

At the time, Ramirez was staying at two hotels in the general area, said Deputy Chief David Shinn.

Mathew Gabriel, the DNA technical leader at the crime lab, said numerous items from the scene were tested, and one resulted in a "cold hit" when run through a national database. The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) holds about 1.2 million profiles of convicted offenders, and arrestees from past felonies.

The DNA sample from the crime scene will now be compared with the new DNA sample from Ramirez to confirm the cold hit, Gabriel said.

--Shelby Grad and Ruben Vives

Photo: Richard Ramirez in 1985. AP

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Uncertainty over whether Richard Ramirez would face trial in new slaying cases