A man living in the U.S. illegally, accused of fatally beating a 64-year-old woman with a hammer, is scheduled to appear in a Santa Maria, Ca., courtroom today to face a murder charge, reports the Los Angeles Times. Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez, 29, and another man are accused of breaking into the home of Marilyn Pharis on July 24 and sexually assaulting her, says the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office. After the attack, Ramirez escaped to a nearby home, where officers arrested him. Pharis was hospitalized with severe injuries and died Aug. 1, police said. The death of Pharis, an Air Force veteran who worked as a civilian at Vandenberg Air Force Base, has become a flashpoint in the debate over the nation’s immigration policies and how they are applied at the federal, state and local level.
Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin said “there’s a blood trail leading to the bedroom of Marilyn Pharis” from Sacramento and Washington. “This is not just in Santa Maria. This is all over the state of California and all over the United States,” Martin told KEYT Channel 3. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Santa Barbara custody officials to put a detention hold on Ramirez last year after he was charged with felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault. The detainer was meant to ensure Ramirez would be transferred into federal custody before his release. His case was downgraded to a misdemeanor. Santa Barbara custody officials concluded that keeping Ramirez would violate the state’s Trust Act, which allows local law enforcement to hold inmates for immigration authorities only if they have been charged with a serious crime.