SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Two kidnappers who snatched a baby from his grandmother’s home in San Jose were poised to be sentenced to prison on Friday. One of the kidnapper’s jail phone calls, however, caused the sentencing hearing to be pushed back until January.
Prosecutors said Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez made 300 jail calls while in custody. Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise said those jail calls may impact prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation.
Ramirez’s defense attorney, Cody Salfen, said he needs more time to listen to, and translate, all of her calls because the conversations were in Spanish.
Ramirez, 43, and her secret lover, 28-year-old Jose Ramon Portillo, staged four failed attempts to kidnap Baby Brandon before they ultimately kidnapped him on April 25, 2022. Ramirez faces up to 14 years in prison, while Portillo faces up to five years.
The kidnappers pleaded no contest before the case went to trial. Prosecutors had a mountain of evidence against the duo, including text messages detailing their kidnapping plots, that was presented at a preliminary hearing in August.
At the kidnappers’ August plea hearing, KRON4’s reporter overheard Salfen warning Ramirez’s adult daughter in the courtroom gallery that she should be cautious about jail phone calls with her mother. He reminded Ramirez’s daughter and nephew that every inmate’s calls are monitored and recorded by corrections officers.
Baby Brandon also attended his kidnappers’ hearing, and he appeared healthy and happy with his mother. Ramirez made 300 jail phone calls between August and October 28, and the recorded conversations’ content is still be reviewed by the defense and prosecution. Portillo’s jail calls will also be reviewed.
“I can’t speak to their content because it isn’t public at this time,” Wise told KRON4 on Friday. “If something was incriminating in these calls, it could lead her to a higher sentence.”
Bizarre San Jose Kidnapping
Baby Brandon Cuellar’s disappearance set off a frantic 20-hour search across San Jose before good Samaritans helped police find the 3-month-old infant hidden in Portillo’s bedroom. Police Chief Anthony Mata described the kidnapping as “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Testimony from the preliminary hearing revealed a love triangle motive.
Ramirez began plotting to kidnap Brandon after she lied to her boyfriend, Francisco Marquez, that she had recently given birth and claimed he was the father, San Jose Police Dept. Officer Eduardo Reyes testified. She convinced her secret lover, Portillo, to help her, text messages revealed. She planned to keep the baby as her own, investigators said.
Ramirez became friends with the infant’s grandmother because they attended the same church. The small church, Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas, is the same church where a 3-year-old girl was tortured to death when the pastor and girl’s mother attempted to cast “demons” out of her body through an exorcism last year, according to investigators.
Reyes interrogated Marquez at the police station on April 27, one day after Baby Brandon was found hidden and unharmed inside Portillo’s home at 3365 Mather Drive in San Jose. Marquez said he moved into Ramirez’s home on April 23. When Marquez asked Ramirez why their baby wasn’t home, she showed Marquez photographs of Baby Brandon on her cellphone and claimed he was their baby, who they named Angel.
“She said the baby was at the hospital receiving medical treatment, and that she was going to pick him up later two days later, on the 25th,” Reyes testified.
Marquez told police that he knew his girlfriend often lied to him and cheated, but stayed with her because he was in love with her.
Ramirez lied to Marquez about other fake pregnancies and fake children before the kidnapping incident, according to Reyes. “He believed he had three children with Ms. Ramirez. He believed he had twins with Ms. Ramirez, but he never saw the twins or met the twins,” Reyes testified.
Like Marquez, Portillo was also in love with Ramirez, according to text messages revealed in court by prosecutors.
Following instructions from Ramirez, Portillo kidnapped Brandon out of his grandmother’s Elm Street apartment on April 25. His grandmother was busy unloading shopping bags from her car with Ramirez.
The grandmother, Victoria Mejia, testified about the terrifying moment she discovered that her grandson had disappeared. “I was yelling and yelling and yelling, ‘the baby, the baby is not here!'” Mejia said.
Ramirez and Portillo will remain in custody until they are sentenced. Judge Nona Klippen is now scheduled to sentence the kidnappers on January 13. Prosecutors may revise their sentencing recommendation based on new information revealed in the jail phone calls. Baby Brandon’s family is expected to make victim impact statements at the hearing as well.