Two Sisters Sentenced In 2009 Killing Of Spiritual Leader

Mar 5, 2020, 11:18 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Two sisters were sentenced to prison Thursday for the 2009 killing of a Native American spiritual leader in Midvale.

31-year-old Jerah Santos-Ramirez received concurrent 5-years-to-life and 1-to-15-year terms for first-degree felony aggravated robbery and second-degree felony manslaughter.

30-year-old Victoria Clown was handed two concurrent 1-to-15-year sentences for second-degree felony manslaughter and second-degree felony robbery.

According to court records, police conducted a welfare check on Jan. 13, 2009 at an apartment at 7895 S. Candlestick Lane and discovered the decomposing body of Lester Lloyd Janise slumped over a couch with two belts around his neck.

Detectives eventually determined Janise, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and spiritual leader among Native Americans, had died in late December 2008.

The medical examiner found Janise’s death to be a homicide by “probable ligature strangulation.”

Though the trail eventually went cold, fresh attention on the case in 2014 from Unified Police Det. Ben Pender eventually led to an interview with Clown in October 2018.

“Santos-Ramirez had left her children with Clown and Mr. Janise for 4 days,” a 2018 probable cause statement read. “On Dec. 28, Santos-Ramirez returned to the apartment and an argument ensued between Santos-Ramirez and Mr. Janise regarding Santos-Ramirez’ abandonment of her children. Clown told the interviewing officers that the argument lasted over an hour and that, during the argument, Santos-Ramirez told Clown she needed a ride out of there. Santos-Ramirez had an idea to knock Mr. Janise out, but she was concerned that he would call the police after he woke up.”

According to the document, Clown stated that she saw Janise on his side on the sofa as the two left the apartment.

“They had strangled Lester and had stolen his van and drove back to South Dakota,” Pender said Thursday following the sentencing.

Both women offered tearful apologies in court before their sentences were read.

“I know what I did was wrong—I think about it a lot and other ways I could have handled the situation,” Santos-Ramirez read from a paper. “All these years it’s been weighing on my shoulders and I wanted to get it off my chest and come clean about what happened. I wanted to take responsibility for what had happened all those years ago. I apologize to everyone involved in my case and my deepest apologies to the family and friends of Lester Janise.”

Clown broke down briefly and sobbed during her statement to the court.

“I just want to say that I’m sorry to Lester and his family,” Clown said. “I’m glad after 10 years that justice is finally getting served. He didn’t deserve this, but I just wanted everyone to know that I am truly sorry. I’ve learned a lot from this whole situation but overall I don’t have to live with the guilt I had to live with for 10 years and I’m ready for whatever my sentence is.”

Prosecutors read a transcribed statement initially sent via video from Janise’s sister, Helen Bernice Crow.

“I miss my brother,” the woman stated. “I’m sorry but I still cry every time I think about him.”

Judge Linda Jones said because there are conflicts even after the women entered guilty pleas in January, she was concerned the man’s family will never fully know what happened.

“Mr. Janise offered a safe haven,” Jones said to the court. “For him, it ended in a frightening, cruel, tragic death.”

Pender said he was glad he was able to get answers and, perhaps, a measure of justice for Janise’s family.

“I don’t necessarily know if it’s always justice for the family,” Pender said. “There’s a lot of work that’s been put into this case by many people. I’m just the, I guess, fortunate one to see it come to an end and people be held responsible.”

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Two Sisters Sentenced In 2009 Killing Of Spiritual Leader