Barring a last-minute reprieve, Bobby Lee Ramdass will be put to death Tuesday night for murdering a clerk at a Fairfax County convenience store who angered him by failing to open a safe during a September 1992 robbery.
Ramdass, 28, also shot a cabdriver and robbed two pizza shops that week, and murdered a 19-year-old Alexandria man during an attempted robbery two months earlier. Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. called Ramdass "one of the more brutal killers I've had to prosecute."
Unless Gov. James S. Gilmore III or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, Ramdass's will be the state's 14th execution this year, breaking Virginia's modern record for the fourth consecutive year.
Defense attorneys acknowledge Ramdass's guilt but say the jury might not have given him the death penalty had it known that the only alternative sentence was life without possibility of parole.
"All we're asking is that the jury be given all the information and make a decision," said F. Nash Bilisoly, Ramdass's Norfolk-based attorney, who is asking the Supreme Court to order a new sentencing. "Bobby Ramdass, believe me, will never see the light of day again."
The clemency petition describes Ramdass's early life as violent and neglectful, quoting a psychiatrist who called Ramdass's home "unbelievably dysfunctional" and said his childhood was filled with "noxious and pathological life experiences." His mother, a topless dancer, was an indifferent parent whose husband at the time refused to believe that Ramdass was his son and physically abused him, the petition says.
The petition also contends that Ramdass's mother shot her husband--though not fatally--when he tried to kill Ramdass's younger brother. No charges were ever filed. After the marriage broke up, the clemency petition says, Ramdass and his mother lived in a storage bin and stole food to survive.
Ramdass is scheduled to die for killing Mohammad Z. Kayani, of Springfield, a 34-year-old Pakistani immigrant who was a clerk at a 7-Eleven store in Franconia. Authorities say that as Ramdass and four other men robbed the store, he held a gun to Kayani's head while Kayani was trying to unlock a safe that only a store manager could open.
After one of the other robbers fired his gun, Ramdass shot Kayani, killing him. A cabdriver testified at the trial about a similar crime in which Ramdass shot and wounded him as he tried to turn over money during a robbery just days before Kayani's murder.
During the sentencing phase of the capital murder trial, the jury sent a note to the judge asking if Ramdass could ever be eligible for parole if he received a life sentence instead of the death penalty. The judge, citing Virginia law of the time, refused to answer.
That refusal has been at the center of years of legal action. A federal judge ruled last year that Ramdass deserved a new sentencing, citing a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a South Carolina case stating that juries need to be told if defendants would be ineligible for parole if they are given a life sentence.
But the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the federal judge's decision on grounds that Ramdass was still technically eligible for parole when the jury asked its question.
Virginia has since abolished parole, but Ramdass was covered by earlier laws that eliminated parole for criminals convicted of three violent felonies.
Ramdass had two prior felony convictions at the time he was tried for the murder of Kayani, but one of those convictions--for a pizza shop robbery--went to sentencing 19 days after the conclusion of the Kayani murder trial.
The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that because Ramdass hadn't been sentenced for the pizza-shop robbery, he didn't officially have the three felonies needed to eliminate the possibility of parole.
Had that sentencing come sooner, or had the Fourth Circuit Court interpreted the rules with more emphasis on the conviction date than on the sentencing date, Ramdass would certainly get new sentencing, says Bilisoly.
"If they put him to death, it's only going to be on a technicality," Bilisoly said.
Horan said the judge's refusal to answer the jury's question made no difference at sentencing. The Virginia attorney general's office is arguing in briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court that it's time for Ramdass to die for his crimes.
"I don't think it was close," Horan said. "It wouldn't have made an ounce of difference in the case. Once the jury heard that [wounded] cabdriver, there wasn't any doubt in my mind they were going to give death."
David Botkins, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark L. Earley, said in a statement: "Ramdass is a brutal, predatory killer. . . . Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with the victim's family."