Witness testifies in Tino Tufono murder trial

A recorded statement to police could help prosecutors determine a motive in the case of one of Fresno's most prolific car thieves now on trial for murder.
February 15, 2014 3:07:35 PM PST
A recorded statement to police could help prosecutors determine a motive in the case of one of Fresno's most prolific car thieves now on trial for murder. That's because attorneys said witnesses are reluctant to testify against 30-year-old Tino Tufono.

Prior to his arrest in December 2011, Tufono was Fresno's number two car thief. Authorities said he was released from jail at least seven times due to overcrowding.

Tino Tufono is accused of killing 25-year-old Jacob Ramirez in a drug-induced rage at a small gathering in a detached garage behind a home in Central Fresno.

Friday prosecutors played a 58 second audio clip where witness Gina Gama described to police the moments leading up to the shooting.

"Tino said if you don't want to smoke with me you don't have to. It's going to be mine anyways or something like that. And he turned around, walked through the doorway, said that and turned around and walked back. Next thing I know...he shot him. He shot him once in the chest and after shooting him in the chest he said, it's the only way the person's going to die and he shot him in the face."

The recording almost didn't reach the jury because Gama didn't want to testify. She told the court the incident was too traumatic for her and the Ramirez family. She also said she wanted to block it from her memory and couldn't recall many details.

"I don't know if I even want to go through this right now. I couldn't even sleep last night," Gama said.

The judge ultimately told Gama she had no choice but to take the stand.

During her testimony, Gama said Tino wanted to come inside the home prosecutors described as a "flop house" where addicts and homeless people gather to hang out. She said Tufono was tired and hungry, but the woman who lives there didn't want to let him in because he didn't have any drugs.

She later explained, while Tufono was outside sitting near a tree, Ramirez was let in because he had methamphetamine. Gama said she felt sorry for Tufono so she eventually invited him inside to make him something to eat. She explained she never finished though, instead lying down in the bedroom to go to sleep. That's when she said she heard one, maybe two gun shots and saw the barrel of the gun begin to enter the room.

"I put my head down and when I looked up, I saw Leanne (the woman who lives there) on the floor crying," she said.

She said Tufono then ordered everyone on the ground at gunpoint, but told her to get up. He then demanded she and her friend Kelly Brown drag the body into the shower stall and leave with him.

"I do remember him saying for us to slice him or something and we refused to and at that point he started talking about kids next door that were locked in," she said. "You could tell he was not in his right mind."

She said Tufono had smoked dope before arriving at the house and was making statements about hearing kid's voices inside an abandoned house next door.

She said the three of them then left to find tools to break in the boarded up home and got a ride to an area near the VA hospital from a woman they ran into on the street.

When they returned to the home, Tufono saw police and took off running.

Prosecutors believe Tufono shot Ramirez in an unprovoked attack, held the two women at gunpoint and ordered them to leave with him to find sharper knives to cover up the crime. But Prosecutors argue Tufono acted in self-defense after Ramirez lunged at him with a pizza cutter and claimed the two women left with Tufono voluntarily to smoke more drugs.

Ramirez friends and family believe the witnesses aren't being forthright in their testimony and hope they'll cooperate more as the trial continues.

"It seems like it's going round and round and round," said Ramirez' close friend Wendy Davis. "I don't think we're getting any of the answers that we really want. This is really hard for a lot of us. We're all just trying to get the truth out of everyone that was there so that Jacob could rest peacefully and we want justice."


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