Jury does not convict Ruiz in death of boyfriend

Innocent of murder

Submitted Photo Rebecca Ruiz was found innocent in the death of Julian Duman Friday. The following photo was released by the Dunkirk Police Department in 2017 following her arrest.

There was a correction made to note that Lee Donato asked the jury of its decision.

MAYVILLE — After two and a half hours of deliberation, the 12-person jury returned to the court room. The defendant Rebecca Ruiz — teary eyed and seconds removed from hugging members of her family that sat in the gallery behind the defense’s table — awaited her verdict.

Chautauqua County Court Clerk Lee Donato asked: What is the verdict of the second-degree murder charge?

The jury’s foreperson, who was standing, answered, “Not guilty.” The lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter read the same, “Not guilty.” The family supporting Ruiz went into jubilation as Ruiz was acquitted of the heavier charges.

For tampering with evidence, Ruiz was also found not guilty, however, the second-degree criminal possession of a weapon received a guilty verdict.

Second-degree criminal possession of a weapon has a minimum sentencing of 3 ¢ years, which may go up to 15 years in jail.

Ruiz was charged in response of the death of Julian Duman.

On July 6, 2017, Ruiz heard pounding and keys jiggling from her outside door in her kitchen. She heard the possible intruder say that he was “Spoons,” which was a nickname for her husband, Walter Duprey, that she no longer sees.

The defense stated that Duprey and Ruiz had an abusive relationship and proved on March 5, 2017, that Walter was on scene of a break in at Ruiz’s house, where Walter allegedly beat Ruiz up in an upstairs bedroom.

With the fear of a similar instance occurring again, Ruiz looked for a weapon and found a gun in the kitchen drawer. She said she asked the violent knocker to leave. After hearing the noise of keys near the door, she shot through the near-center of the door.

Instead of being Duprey, it was her boyfriend Duman. Duman died due to the gunshot wound and Ruiz was arrested. The jury sided with the defense as it argued that a mother, resident was protecting her children and household.

For leading defense attorney Anthony L. Pendergrass, the verdict was an outcome that will allow a mother to return to her children.

“I am ecstatic that this mother has the ability to now, at some point, parent her children and that she has the ability to start restoring a portion of her life,” Pendergrass said. “Her life was hell because of the fact that not only was she charged, but she killed the love of her life. This was the love of her life.

“There was no intention to kill the love of her life and now she has to suffer from that for the rest of her life. This was a cloud being removed from her.”

District Attorney Patrick Swanson and the prosecution believe that the situations surrounding the case made it difficult to receive a positive verdict on all the charges. Swanson brought up the troublesome factor of losing the “eye witness.”

Allegedly, Quentin Watts was on the scene when Duman was killed by Ruiz. Swanson stated that Watts changed his story from his statement to the Dunkirk Police Department. In a letter to Ruiz from Watts, Swanson stated that Watts wrote: They have nothing against you; I withdrew my statement and that Watts explicitly said he lied to Dunkirk Police.

Swanson charged Watts with filing a false instrument for lying to Dunkirk Police, which the DA said he, in verbatim, Watts wrote in the letter to Ruiz. Watts was vital to Swanson’s case and the abrupt change in early March gave little time prior to trial to adapt.

“The circumstances to this one were a little different,” Swanson said. “We had eye witness to this crime, who we eventually had to charge with filing a false instrument; he faces possible perjury charges in the future. We didn’t find out about the basis of those charges until about a week before trial, which put us in a really difficult and interesting situation.

“We put the best case given the circumstances. We lost our eye witness a week before trial and we did get a conviction that carries 3 ¢ to 15 years in prison. We feel good about the conviction we got given the circumstances.”

Presiding Judge David Foley agreed to lessen the bail to $100,000, by the request of Pendergrass. Sentencing is tentatively set for June 15. An officer at the county jail confirmed she was not in the jail at the end of the day.

Pendergrass believes he was able to connect with the jury.

“My buddy Sam Davis said that I have a nice ability to tell a story,” Pendergrass said. “I believe that people are interested in the story and they are interested in the ups and downs of a story. That’s the way life goes. Life has its ups and downs. I believe people were interested in hearing the story from Rebecca’s perspective. I was just blessed to be able to tell the story from her perspective.”

Swanson did not criticize jury for its decision.

“The jury did their job in this case, given the evidence that was presented and the lack of an eye witness to tell them other than what the defendant was saying. I think they did their job. That’s how the process works,” he said.

For the district attorney, this is the second high-profile trial in as many months that the prosecution failed a conviction they were looking for. In early February, the defense for Justin Haffa defeated first-degree attempted murder, first-degree robbery and aggravated assault. Haffa was guilty of third-degree robbery.

“Yeah, this one was a pretty different case,” Swanson said. “The circumstances here were not normal. This was a unique situation where you lose your eye witness a week before trial and that presents significant hurdles to overcome. So, we are happy with the outcome of getting a violent felony conviction that carries up to 15 years.”

Twitter: @ByKuczkowski

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