Katherine Bockhorst sat quietly in the corner of a Las Vegas courtroom as her grandmother’s killer was convicted of murder Wednesday — 21 years after a double homicide at an assisted living facility.
“I needed to be here to watch justice come through,” she said. “It can’t bring her back, but there’s closure to this piece of it.”
Prosecutors said Gustavo Ramos-Martinez was 18 in May 1998 when he fatally stabbed and raped 86-year-old Helen Sabraw before bludgeoning 75-year-old Wallace Siegel to death with a dumbbell in separate apartments at an assisted-living community near Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway.
Bockhorst and her husband, Steven, watched six days of testimony and arguments in Ramos-Martinez’s bench trial, in which District Judge Douglas Herndon weighed the evidence rather than a jury.
The judge found Ramos-Martinez guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon and one count of sexual assault with use of a deadly weapon.
A bloody palm print on the corner of page 7C of a Las Vegas Review-Journal from May 15, 1998, found near Siegel’s body linked Ramos-Martinez to the slayings, prosecutors said. He was arrested in 2010 after he gave a DNA sample while serving time in federal prison on an illegal immigration charge.
Herndon is scheduled to sentence the defendant in September.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors displayed gruesome crime scene images of the apartment where Katherine Bockhorst’s father, Mark Sabraw, who has since died, found his mother dead.
“For her sake and for his, I needed to be here,” Bockhorst said after the judge announced his verdict. “She was like my second mother. I am who I am today because of her. I know she would do the same for me.”
Ramos-Martinez lived less than a quarter-mile from where the killings occurred but denied to police that he had ever been to the property, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Abel Yanez tried to argue that Siegel’s son, Jack, had a financial motive to kill his father. Jack Siegel’s siblings had chosen him to care for his father because he was not working at the time, Yanez said. But prosecutors told the judge that Jack Siegel had been “forensically eliminated” as a suspect.
About a year ago, prosecutors agreed to withdraw the possibility of the death penalty for Ramos-Martinez after his attorneys argued that he was not mentally capable of facing capital punishment.
In the nine years he has been in custody awaiting trial, Ramos-Martinez, now 39, has lost sight in one eye and has diminishing vision in the other, his attorneys also said.
Bockhorst spent years checking with Metro detectives until she received a short text message from her father that stated the killer had been found.
A few months before the trial, Bockhorst had a simple, yet meaningful black tattoo inked into the underside of her right wrist: an infinity symbol looped into “hearts of love” and in the shape of a butterfly as a sign of peace.
She looks at it and thinks of Sabraw, the woman she remembers as “Gram.”
Still, Ramos-Martinez’s conviction, Bockhorst said, “doesn’t answer any of the questions as to why. The only person that’s ever going to know that is the defendant and the people who fought for their lives.”