Juan Ramirez walked out of the Manatee County Judicial Center a free man Thursday afternoon, a little more than two years after he fatally shot another man.
He paused and looked up as the sun shined on his face, still trembling since the verdict was read.
“I still can’t believe it,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “I’m very grateful to my attorney Richard Reinhart, and to God.”
Ramirez never denied shooting Jose Luis Mendoza Aguilar on Oct. 17, 2015, but said that he was in fear for his life. Aguilar was known as “the ice cream man” in the east Bradenton neighborhood of Manatee Trailer Park, because he sold ice cream and other snacks from his bicycle.
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After deliberating for a little more than two hours Thursday afternoon, a jury of six found Ramirez not guilty of second-degree murder. Ramirez was released after being in custody since his arrest on Oct. 22, 2015.
“I never denied anything because I knew everything what happened. I just defended my life. I was scared he would strike me with that stick and take my life or leave me in a coma,” Ramirez said.
But Ramirez did have a message for Mendoza Aguilar’s family.
“Please forgive me. I was only defending myself and my life and I send them my sincere condolences,” he said.
It was just before 6 p.m. Oct. 17, 2015, when Bradenton police received a 911 call to report the shooting. Officers responded to the block of 22nd Lane East in Bradenton and found Mendoza Aguilar suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He died several hours later at Blake Medical Center.
Ramirez testified at trial that he had run into Mendoza Aguilar earlier on the day of the shooting when he went to pay one of the workers from his construction business. Mendoza Aguilar had been arguing with his worker’s wife saying that he was still owed money for ice cream so Ramirez said he told him to leave.
When Ramirez left to go pay another worker, he was stopped by a friend and offered a beer. Mendoza showed up at the home where a barbeque was being held about 10 minutes later, Ramirez said.
Ramirez testified that he told the victim he didn’t want any problems and brandished his pistol, but that did not stop Mendoza Aguilar. The victim was armed with a club, so he fired a warning shot, but when that still did not stop Mendoza Aguilar, Ramirez said he feared for his life so he shot him several times.
“In this case, the defendant presented evidence in support of his claim that he acted in self-defense,” Assistant State Attorney Brian Chambers said in a statement to the Herald. “We ask juries to make difficult decisions and we must accept and rely on the decisions they make. While it may be disappointing, the verdict and the work the jury does must be respected.”
Reinhart said that it was unfortunate Ramirez had been put in a position to have to make a choice between his life and someone else’s life.
“He’s not the one that put himself in that position. Mr. Mendoza Aguilar made Juan make that choice,” Reinhart said. “The jury verdict was absolutely correct. It’s not that the state failed to prove the case. It was absolutely justifiable.”