The San Jose woman responsible for last year's dramatic kidnapping of an infant, with the help of a man she was dating and in order to dupe another man she was involved with, has just been sentenced to 13 years and four months.
Yesenia Ramirez, 44, spoke at length Monday morning at a sentencing hearing, and it seems her apology and extended confession did little to sway the judge toward leniency — she faced up to 14 years, and she received just over 13. Ramirez pled no contest to charges involving the masterminding of the kidnapping of Baby Brandon Cuellar, which occurred in April 2022 and made immediate, national headlines.
Part of what brought such quick attention to the case, apart from the fact that broad-daylight kidnappings of infants are rare, was surveillance footage of her accomplice, 28-year-old Jose Roman Portillo, carrying away the baby from his grandmother's car, from which he was stolen.
Baby Brandon would ultimately be found after a 20-hour manhunt, and Ramirez and Portillo were immediately arrested.
As we learned last summer, Ramirez was embroiled in something of a love triangle — and other men may have been involved as well, in addition to an estranged husband. And in order to baby-trap another boyfriend, Francisco Marquez, she used Portillo to help pull off a kidnapping after she had lied to Marquez for months about being pregnant with his child. The child belonged to a woman whom Ramirez had befriended at a local church.
KRON4 has snippets of Ramirez's statement in court today, which went on for some 40 minutes.
"My name is Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez," she began. "I am a mother, grandmother. daughter and sister. But I am here before you, and others, as the defendant in this criminal case of kidnapping a baby. With all of my heart I am so sorry. Your honor, this statement obviously is directed to your honor the judge. But this is also the most important opportunity that I have to talk to the persons that I converted into victims. Crimes I committed personally, crimes that I take responsibility for. Crimes that resulted in trauma, crimes that have traumatized many, not just the victims, I take responsibility for causing that trauma."
The judge would ultimately cut off Ramirez's statement, telling her, "We are WAY past apologies," and telling her attorney just before a lunch break, "She’s been talking for what, 40 minutes? Let’s wrap it up."
BREAKING: Yesenia Ramirez, right, was sentenced to serve 13 years, 4 months in prison for kidnapping Baby Brandon in San Jose. Ramirez was the mastermind behind the conspiracy.— Amy Larson (@AmyLarson25) March 20, 2023
Jose Portillo, left, has not been sentenced yet. He faces a maximum of 5 years in prison. @kron4news pic.twitter.com/i1ltJYkL9y
This sentencing was originally scheduled for January, but it was delayed after prosecutors began presenting evidence, via jailhouse phone calls, that Ramirez had continued to proclaim her innocence and told a probation officer that her estranged husband "held a gun to her head" and made her do it.
As NBC Bay Area reports, Ramirez's public defender, Cody Salfen, spoke in court about Ramirez's traumatic upbringing in El Salvador, and abuse by a stepfather.
"The California legislature has recognized that people commit crimes oftentimes because they themselves have been victims of crimes," Salfen said, per NBC. "It’s a really vicious cycle that is the reality of our criminal justice system."
Portillo received a five-year sentence in a plea deal, with the judge telling him that while he may have been following instructions and Ramirez's direction in the plot, he nonetheless participated in multiple kidnapping attempts before the final, successful one, and that he was the one who physically removed the infant from his grandmother's care.
"I made bad decisions that hurt the people around me," Portillo said in his own statement. "I hurt myself also by committing this mistake. I am very sorry for all the damage that I caused, to the parents and to the family of the baby. I ask for forgiveness from the court and the parents of the baby."