The Justice Files: Guilt leads to conviction in cold case murder

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It was a woman’s guilt that solved a cold case murder.

As a result, the woman, Victoria “Big Crow” Clown and her sister Jerah Santos-Ramirez are headed to prison.

Thursday, both pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery charges in the 2008 death of Lester Janise.

“I learned a lot from this whole situation but overall I don’t have to live with the guilt I lived with for ten years,” Victoria Clown said at her sentencing.

Janise’s body was found in January 2009.  It was a welfare check and police found him dead with two belts around his neck.  Authorities determined he died sometime in late December 2008.

But the case wasn’t solved immediately.  Five years later, Clown and Santos-Ramirez were brought in for questioning.

“They gave a story to the initial agency,” said detective Ben Pender with Unified Police.  “They stuck with their story and at the time we didn’t have a lot more to go off of.  So, I just kept working and working.”

In early 2018, Pender interviewed Clown again and that’s when the case turned. Clown could no longer live with the guilt and told Pender what happened. She said Santos-Ramirez was kicked out of Janise’s home and she became angered and murdered the 62-year old man.

Thursday, she appeared before the judge at sentencing and offered an apology.

“I just want to say I’m sorry to the Janise family,” Clown said. “After 10 years justice is finally getting here. He didn’t deserve this.”

But Santos-Ramirez stuck with her story at the sentencing.  She expressed remorse but maintained she was only trying to protect her sister from Janise’s sexual advances.

“At the time I was scared for my sister and I didn’t want her to experience the pain that I had because of being molested myself,” said Santos-Ramirez.

Detective Pender said there was no truth to those allegations.

“I know that first hand by talking to Victoria (Clown),” Pender said after Thursday’s sentencing.  “(Clown) never alluded to any misconduct on Lester’s behalf.  (She) always painted him as a perfect gentleman.”

And by all accounts he was. While alive, Janise was a Native-American spiritual leader. After high school, he joined the army and fought in Vietnam. He was wounded and received the purple heart.

His sister who lives in South Dakota said his death left her with a broken heart.

“I still can’t believe he was killed over here,” said Helen Bernice Crow. “Especially around the holidays.  I’m sorry but I still cry every time I think about him.”

The two women have been in the Salt Lake County jail since their arrest 15 months ago.  They will not be getting any credit for that time served, but they’ll now head to prison.

 Each received sentences of one-to-15 years in prison for manslaughter and robbery.  The sentences will run concurrently.

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