In the tiny farming town of Colusa in the late 1990s, everybody knew Erik Ingebretsen’s favorite color was blue.
The teen often wore blue clothes and, before he disappeared and was later found dead in the woods, he drove a beloved Chevy S-10 pickup truck painted that color.
On Tuesday, residents of Colusa turned out in blue in remembrance of his July 1997 murder, and to show their support for keeping his killer in prison.
Men and women by the dozens, family friends, former classmates and those who had been in the search party for Ingebretsen more than 20 years ago stood in front of Colusa’s historic county courthouse. Inside, Nathan Ramazzini was fighting to have his life without parole sentence downgraded.
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Ramazzini was 17 and had been Ingrebretsen’s best friend before he was convicted of murdering him in July 1998.
New laws changing how adults and juveniles are tried and sentenced for murder in California have captured headlines and controversy in recent months, but Tuesday showed the shock waves left by older legislation changing rules around life sentences for juvenile offenders.
Senate Bill 9, enacted in 2012, and the penal code section borne from it, allows prisoners convicted as juveniles and who have served at least 15 years of a life sentence to petition the court to be resentenced. The original sentencing court can decide if a lesser penalty is warranted. Ramazzini’s resentencing hearing began Tuesday and is expected to conclude Friday.
“It was painful then and it’s just as painful now. All (the hearing) has done is move it right in front of your face,” Erik’s father, Gerald Ingebretsen, said outside the courthouse as Ramazzini’s hearing churned on. “It’s a system that’s broken. The whole town’s suffering, the whole county.”
Inside the courtroom, Ramazzini, 37, sat stock still in his orange-and-white jail uniform, his hairline now receded into a widow’s peak, as attorneys before Colusa Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thompson argued whether his attempts at rehabilitation and feelings of remorse were sincere or manufactured for the hope of possible parole.
Defense experts testified that Ramazzini was amenable to rehabilitation, that he had horrible memories of the crime, wanted to apologize to Erik’s family and was motivated to continue to change while behind bars.
Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp wasn’t convinced. Ramazzini’s petition was “self-serving,” he said.
“He made excuses for his behavior. He shifts blame. He denies his leadership role. Someone else is more to blame. Someone else is more culpable. His rehabilitation is only triggered by changes in the law,” Beauchamp said.
Many of those outside had little sympathy for Ramazzini’s plea. When Ingebretsen disappeared, hundreds of residents in the town of 6,000 — many the same people who turned out Tuesday — joined a foot search to find him.
“That’s what we do. We’re Colusa. We’re small but mighty,” Erik’s sister Devin Lombardi said outside the courthouse. Lombardi has spent years keeping her brother’s murder and his convicted killer in the spotlight. “We’ve spent years trying to make peace with all of this, but it revictimizes us.”
Ingrebreten’s body was found in the woods outside Colusa, 65 miles north of Sacramento. He had been beaten and stabbed to death, his throat slashed. He was 16 years old. Ramazzini was the prime suspect along with another teen, Leo Contreras. Erik’s friends and family said then that Ramazzini was jealous of Ingebretsen. Colusa County prosecutors said Ramazzini and Contreras lured Ingebretsen into the woods north of town before killing him. Contreras was sentenced in 1998 to 25 years to life in state prison for his role in the killing.
The judge at Ramazzini’s sentencing called the killing “cruel, heinous and unimaginable.”
Amy Manville watched from the gallery clutching a tissue as Ramazzini’s lawyers made their case. Manville is a close friend of the Ingebretsens and helped search for him while pushing her newborn son in a stroller. That son is now 21, she said. But the pain of lngebretsen’s death does not seem two decades distant.
“It’s very devastating to have to go through this again. It’s very traumatic for everybody,” Manville said. “Just when you start healing you grieve and grieve over again.”