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Rounds Commuted Killer’s Sentence, Now Exerting Pressure on Parole Board

Flyover Wire reminds us that Marion Michael Rounds's judgment seems to gone all to heck during the last couple months of his governorship. In late 2010, in the midst of doling out cash hand over fist for misappropriation at Northern Beef Packers, lame-duck Governor Rounds commuted the life sentence of Joaquin Jack Ramos, who killed his girlfriend Debbie Martines and her unborn child in 1994.

The family of Martines, whom Rounds had failed to contact during over two years of careful, unrushed consideration, was outraged and sought an audience with Rounds before he left office in January 2011. The family got the impression Rounds blamed them for not contacting him sooner. Stung by bad publicity, Rounds did promise to actively oppose Ramos's parole. Rounds made good on that promise last month, personally contacting the members of the state Board of Pardons and Parole. The board heeded Rounds's calls and turned down Ramos's first parole request.

But thanks to Rounds's mistake and his inability to Google people's names and addresses (this sounds familiar), the victims' family, not to mention Pennington County States Attorney Mark Vargo and other public officials, now faces the unpleasant and costly prospect of writing letters and trundling off to Springfield every eight months, as that's how often Ramos can apply for parole.

The only way Rounds can continue to make up for his mistake is by abusing his power and status. Rounds made personal phone calls to parole board members. Ramos's uncle, Angelo Cruz of Tampa, Florida, complains that he doesn't get to personally telephone and lobby members of the state parole board on in favor of parole for his nephew. I have no sympathy for Ramos himself, but from a cold, abstract justice perspective, I can see Cruz's point. If a convict deserved parole, I wouldn't want any rich and powerful individual to enjoy special access to the parole board to influence them against granting that parole. A former governor shouldn't get to fix his error by jumping the queue and exerting political pressure outside the normal channels available to regular citizens on either side of a judicial proceeding.


  1. interested party 2013.12.02

    so much for mike's redeemer complex: his priest must be so proud.

  2. interested party 2013.12.02

    mike should pose at the turret of a tank and complete his Dukakis redux.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.12.02

    A pro-life politician commutes the sentence of a murderer?!? He murdered his wife, but she was only a woman and probably deserved it for nagging him. But the FETUS!!!! How can he be pro-life and commute a monstrous BABY KILLER?!?!?

  4. Roger Elgersma 2013.12.02

    Rounds is advised to give a break to someone who claims to have accidentally shot his pregnant girlfriend while he was pointing a gun at her. Probably was not an accident that he was pointing a gun at her.
    Rounds vetoes abortion ban because it was written wrong, while he had three of his lawyers help write it without a complaint about it being written wrong.
    Rounds sees dam water low for six years. It rains for two years and the water level rises. Rounds claims management ability for raising water. One more year of rain and we had floods.
    Rounds appoints Sean O'Brien a judge because he was recommended after Sean had been 'not there from intoxication for entire legislative session a month before being appointed' and then gets two DUI's and an ankle braclet while being a judge and finally is forced to resign.
    Rounds has seven of eight unbalanced budgets in a conservative state.
    Sooooooo, does Rounds have a problem finding good advisors, or is he not able to make valid decisions on his own or BOTH.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.03

    Roger, you have been paying close attention to Rounds, haven't you?

  6. Roger Elgersma 2013.12.03

    Anyone can do a particular decision different than I would and either be wrong or have a different priority than I would or have more or different information than I do. But the first time I saw Rounds was at a debate for governor at USF where he let the other two beat eachother up rather than tell me what he was for. Even if the other two are bad, I do want to know what I am voting for rather than just to know what I am voting against. I had no confidence in him at all on any issue. You have to be for something to run for office. Even a teapartier is for something even if it is for less.

  7. Roger Elgersma 2013.12.03

    Bad trends are not a good thing either.

  8. Angelo Cruz 2014.05.12

    Deb Geelsdottir, my nephew is neither a murderer nor a baby killer. Furthermore, Debbie Jo Martines was not Joaquin Ramos' wife, she was his fiancé.

    Before you write you ought to have the facts right.

    Both the South Dakota Supreme Court and the State Attorney's office acknowledged that what happened was an unintentional and accidental killing that still haunts my nephew to this day.

    As for the Madville article I believe it is a fair and balanced story that I have read to date on the case.

    I cannot understand how former Gov. Mike Rounds has inserted himself in this case. His part was over when he signed the commutation granting Joaquin Ramos parole eligibility.

    He has admitted to the Rapid City Journal to calling every Board member to influence their vote against paroling my nephew. This is not only troubling but it is also unfair, unjust and unethical.

    Governor Daugaard wrote me in response to my email that it would be inappropriate for him to attempt to influence the Parole Board's decision making process, so I ask, how does Mike Rounds believe he can attempt to influence them since he is no longer in office?

  9. grudznick 2014.05.12

    Ms. Geelsdottir, nagging women should not be acted upon physically in any way, in my opinion. Scold them, yes.

  10. Jenny 2014.05.12

    Are you going to try to say he wasn't an abusive person either, Angelo? Very sad case, of course the defense is going to claim it was accidental.
    MN just passed a law this year pertaining to situations like this , it would keep domestic abusers from possessing guns.

  11. Angelo Cruz 2014.05.13

    Jenny, I have implied no such thing. Yes, he was abusive. What my nephew did was heinous and wrong. There is no disputing this.

    However, what happened is not the point of contention.

    Joaquin Ramos has been incarcerated for over 20 years. He was sentenced to life without parole for first degree manslaughter.

    Forty five states sentence between 4-25 years max for the same offense. Two states sentence up to 40 years max. Only three states sentence up to life: Wisconsin, Washington and South Dakota.

    Obviously something is wrong here. This must change.

    Jenny, it was not the defense only that claimed it was 'accidental,' it was the South Dakota Supreme court and the State Attorney's office too. Read below:

    Plaintiff and Appellee,
    Defendant and Appellant.

    Argued Nov 28, 1995; Opinion Filed April 3, 1996

    SABERS, Justice

    [¶18] When discussing Ramos’ principal offense, the trial court stated, “I understand that you aren’t here as a murderer. You are [96 SDO 245] here for an offense of first degree manslaughter, and I have tried to examine this sentence in that light.”

    [¶26] State’s comments at sentencing included:
    I do obviously agree with certain things with the defense in this case. We agreed, both by the charge and obviously by the plea agreement, this is not a premeditated act. Jack Ramos did not go to get the gun having decided to kill Debbie Jo Martines.

    There has been a lot of negative and erroneous reporting about my nephew that leads many people to make false assumptions and I am following all of them to help set the record straight.

    To your last point, anyone wishing to have a gun will not and cannot ever be deterred from having a gun. They will possess it legally or illegally. Let's not fool ourselves.

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