Thursday, 30 May 2024

Death row inmate offers up location of missing woman's body

LAKE COUNTY – A man on death row for the 1980 murder of his wife has sent officials a letter offering up the location of another woman's body, which he says is an attempt to resolve the missing woman's case once and for all.

Gerald Stanley, 64, has been on death row for 25 years, sent there for the August 1980 murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers, who he shot to death at her father's resort in Nice. He was tried in Butte County due to pre-trial publicity in Lake County.

Stanley, who worked as a hunting guide, had a violent history with women before the Rogers murder.

He served four and a half years in prison for murdering Kathleen Rhiley, his first wife, in 1975, and was believed to be involved in the murder of Sheryl Ranee Wright, 19, of Redding, last seen the day before Cynthia Rogers was shot.

But there is another woman linked to Stanley whose ultimate whereabouts have been a mystery for decades: Diana Lynn Ramel.

In a phone conversation with Lake County News late last month, Stanley stated that he intended to turn over to law enforcement officials and the Tehama County Grand Jury the location of Ramel's body. Ramel went missing on Feb. 14, 1980.

“It's time to resolve this,” he said of Ramel's case.

For years, Stanley has promised to reveal Ramel's location, saying he only wanted to be granted an execution date in return.

Previously, he hasn't given up the information. But he appears to have followed through this time.

On Monday, Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen confirmed to Lake County News that he had received a letter from Stanley the same day, outlining the location of Ramel's body.

Ramel and Stanley lived together in Manton, a small community in northeastern Tehama County, on the border with Shasta County.

Stanley maintains that he did not kill Ramel, but he says he did help dispose of her body.

Cohen said he's had a chance to review the handwritten letter, and he intends to meet with the local Department of Justice (DOJ) Crime Lab on Tuesday to discuss the feasibility of conducting a search.

There was a prior search for Ramel's body, said Cohen, although he doesn't know exactly when it took place, or where it was conducted.

Jack Leavitt, a Hayward attorney who has previously been sanctioned by the courts for attempting to help Stanley stop the appeals process in his death penalty case, said he found references in court records to a previous search, but he also didn't know the time frame. He believes it took place close to the area Stanley has identified in the recent letter.

That original search, Leavitt said, failed because it didn't go far enough, and the information Stanley offered didn't appear to pinpoint the location properly.

In the letter outlining the location, a copy of which Leavitt provided to Lake County News, Stanley writes that Ramel put chloral hydrate – a sedative used to induce sleep – in her wine, which killed her, “and I panicked the next morning.”

That led he and another man to bury her body in a creekbed, the letter states.

“I ask that Mr. Leavitt and I be allowed to explain federal attorneys are a fraud and delaying my case deliberately,” he said.

Stanley told Lake County News that he realizes he's not going to get an execution date, and that he's likely to die of a heart attack instead. Natural causes is reported to be the most common cause of death for death row inmates in California due to the lengthy appeals process.

Complaints over handling of death row case

Cohen said he believes Stanley offered the information because he wants to discuss with the world his anger with the Federal Defender's Office because of the repeated attempts to delay an execution.

“In the past it's always been that he would just like to end his life,” said Cohen.

That's been a consistent refrain with Stanley over the years, although some officials have doubted Stanley's sincerity.

Then, last March, came another wrinkle – a federal court judge ruled that juror misconduct and a breach of due process during the competency phase of Stanley's trial, which took place in late 1983 and early 1984 in Oroville, meant that the court needed to reexamine whether or not Stanley had been mentally competent to stand trial.

While Stanley's guilt was upheld in previous rulings, the March 2008 ruling by Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. could mean that Stanley's sentence is changed from death to life imprisonment.

The retroactive competency hearing is back in the Butte County Superior Court, where the original trial took place.

Stanley has complained that his court-appointed attorney, Dennis Hoptowit, represents the wishes of the Federal Defender's Office, not his own. However, Stanley turned down an opportunity for Leavitt to represent him last year, instead choosing to stay with Hoptowit.

Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he'll return to Butte County Superior Court on May 21 to set a date for a hearing on whether or not it's feasible, a quarter century later, to attempt to determine if Stanley was competent at the time of trial.

The proceedings have been put over as Hopkins attempts to locate the original trial transcripts, which he said weren't with the Butte County Superior Court. He said he has people looking through the court's storage, and also has transcript copies of his own and from the California Supreme Court to submit in case the original can't be found.

Leavitt said Stanley has indicated he intends to request that the court allow him to represent himself, an action which Leavitt said Stanley hasn't taken formally before.

Also making the possibility of an execution for Stanley unlikely is a current moratorium on executions in California, established following a February 2006 ruling in which a judge ordered the state to review its death penalty procedures over concerns about suffering of inmates and cruel and unusual punishment. The last execution in the state took place late in 2005.

Cohen said the Ramel matter is “an entirely separate matter” from Stanley's death row case, which doesn't necessitate the involvement of the Federal Defender's Office.

Stanley has stated in previous interviews that he had told the attorneys involved with his federal defense of Ramel's burial site, and they had visited and videotaped it.

Cohen said he didn't yet know how he was going to proceed in the matter, and that the weather conditions and the location – specifically, if it appears to be different from the original search area – would be factors.

“It's going to be dependent, too, on what DOJ's suggestion is going to be. I don't want to speculate what they're going to say,” he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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