Kid Brandon’s kidnappers had a strange plan to take the baby away from his family.
José Portillo fell in love and started dating his first girlfriend, who asked him to commit a crime: to kidnap a stranger’s 3-month-old baby.
Portillo, 28, met and fell in love with Yesenia Ramirez, 43, who has an ex-husband and boyfriend. She managed to convince Portillo that she loved him and that he should help her kidnap baby Brandon from his grandmother’s house.
On Monday, a Santa Clara County judge sentenced Portillo to five years in prison for taking a child on April 25, 2022, and Ramírez to more than 13 years in prison for being a mastermind.
The motive for the crime was considered a love triangle between Portillo, Ramirez and Ramirez’s boyfriend.
Ramirez befriended Jessica Ayala, Brandon’s mother, at their church when she discovered Ayala was pregnant.
The police later found Brandon unharmed in Portillo’s bedroom.
“Thank God, the child was not hurt. It was an extremely dangerous situation,” Judge Nona Clippen said.
According to prosecutors, Ramirez lied to her boyfriend Francisco Marquez about the birth of her son. Ramirez used the pregnancy hoax to make sure Marquez didn’t end their relationship.
She needed baby Brandon to liven up her lies, and she planned to keep him.
After Ramirez withdrew from the pageant last year, she was booked to call Marquez in prison, where she again lied and said that her estranged husband forced her to kidnap a child and put a gun to her head.
Ramirez publicly confessed to her crimes and apologized in court minutes before sentencing.
She read her confession in Spanish to the judge, and the court interpreter translated it.
Ramirez said: “Last year I did a series of terrible things. I planned the kidnapping of a child, an infant. This child’s name is Brandon. The child I loved and cared for. A child who belongs to a family that I loved and worried about, a child who was not and never will be mine. A child that does not belong to me. I feel sorry for this child, his mother, father and all his relatives, whom I offended. I feel sorry for others that I manipulated, traumatized them because of my crimes and my actions. I’m truly sorry. I kidnapped a child and I know that his family was afraid that they would never see their child again. I spent every night last year without sleep in prison. My thoughts included deep emotions, genuine embarrassment and guilt. For the first time in my life, I looked deep inside myself to understand myself.”
Ramirez was still apologizing when Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Wise interrupted her by saying, “We haven’t apologized in a while” and “let’s wrap it up.”
The defense lawyer said Portillo is a “common man” who grew up in an agricultural town in El Salvador. He has a low IQ and is vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by people like Ramirez.
“Mr. Portillo is much younger, which created the perfect storm for these crimes. Mr. Portillo was called by Ms. Ramirez,” his lawyer said.
Ramirez’s lawyer, Cody Salfen, said Ramirez was the victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child. She was raped by her stepfather when she was 6 and her mother did nothing to stop it.
“RS. Ramirez grew up in a single parent family. She never had a home where she felt safe. Repeated violence, sexual harassment, abuse from people whom her DNA told her to trust in terms of safety – her parents ” , Salphen said.
According to Salphen, abuse and trauma lead children to lie and manipulate them later in life to cope and regain control.
“Parents have an innate sense of duty to protect their children. When this threat has a face or a name, the innate instinct is to eliminate this threat – to eliminate Yesenia Ramirez,” Salfen said.
Salphen said, “Miss Ramirez is evil? No. She is not a psychopath. She is a broken person, but not hopelessly broken. She’s worth fixing, and she’s worth saving. Broken Esania is easy to call “evil”. But she is worthy and deserves redemption. This is not a matter of life, someday she will be free. Adding extra nights and years in a prison cell is ineffective. It’s not a cure, it’s not a cure. Long-term imprisonment … breaks the already broken Yesenia even more. It’s counterproductive for justice.”
Judge Clippen said Portillo could have been a pawn in Ramirez’s plan, but he deserved a prison sentence for his active involvement in several kidnapping attempts and the kidnapping itself.
The judge also noted that Portillo bought himself a disguise when he posed as a CPS employee at an orphanage during one of the kidnapping attempts.
The child’s mother, Jessica Ayala, did not attend Monday’s sentencing hearing. Ayala gave the judge a letter calling for jail time for Ramirez. Ayala’s letter said: “We live in fear that she will be free and may try to take revenge on me and my family. I want my children to be safe at school and at home. I don’t want to live in fear that she will try again. I understand that we all deserve a second chance, but my children deserve to live in peace.”
The judge ordered both abductors to be immediately taken into custody and reported to prison.