One word from suspect in murder of Fresno 9-year-old

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- One suspect in the murder of Janessa Ramirez is building a defense to maintain his freedom.

"From my perspective as his attorney it seems to me he's as much a victim in this case as that unfortunate little girl who got shot by the stray bullet," said defense attorney Eric Green.

While another faced a judge Tuesday -- and uttered only one word in his own defense. Brian Cooks, 22, pleaded not guilty to murder charges. But his fate may be entwined with the rival police say he was trying to kill when a stray bullet from his gun hit a 9-year-old girl. So far, Cooks has spoken only one word in his own defense. He said "no" when a judge asked if he could afford to pay for his own attorney.

Isaac Stafford hasn't said anything and for now, he's free. But his attorney tells Action News he doesn't expect that freedom to last long.

We're not allowed to show his face, and Cooks barely even showed it as he made his first court appearance Tuesday.

But going to court is nothing new for the murder suspect. The 22-year-old has been convicted of violence and gun crimes in the past. This one is, by far, the most serious. He's accused of firing a single shot before his gun jammed. Police say Cooks aimed for Stafford, but the bullet missed him and killed 9-year-old Janessa Ramirez 270 yards away.

Four shots directed at Cooks also missed and investigators say Stafford admitted to being in the car where those shots originated. He was arrested on murder charges last week, but Stafford's attorney says he's an innocent man.

"My client did not have a gun and did not instigate this," Green said.

"Did someone else in his car have a gun, though, and shoot at Cooks?" an Action News reporter asked Green.

"You know, I don't know," Green responded.

Prosecutors haven't charged him yet, and he was released from jail Monday, but Green says he expects charges eventually.

A few attorneys tell us they expect both Cooks and Stafford to claim self-defense, but ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi doubts it'll work.

"I just don't see where this is a self-defense case," he said. "I think it's going to be very difficult to prove self-defense in this case."

Capozzi says if the men fired their guns as part of a gang fight, as police have told us, they were already committing a felony. Now, instead of killing each other, their lives could each depend on the other.

"So you could have both defendants who hate each other, trying to kill each other, are both charged with the murder of one young girl," he said.

Cooks is due back in court later this month.

Homicide investigators tell Action News they're still investigating the case, so charges could still come against Stafford and another man who police believe was in the car with him during the shooting.
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