Bloody gang rivalry from Ogden ends in life sentence for man in savage prison murder
Ramon Luis Rivera of Ogden has been sentenced to life behind bars after pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty for the savage slaying of a rival gang member in the Utah State Prison.
Third District Court Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills in Salt Lake City sentenced Rivera, 34, in the March 14, 2016, death of Jeffrey Ray Vigil, 24, also of Ogden.
Rivera agreed to a plea bargain during a video hearing Thursday and the judge immediately pronounced sentence.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office had charged Rivera with first-degree felony aggravated murder, which could have carried the death penalty.
But under terms of the deal, Hruby-Mills sentenced Rivera to life in prison without parole, the sentence to be served consecutively to his previous conviction in Davis County to attempted aggravated murder.
Unified Police Department detectives said in a probable cause statement that prison surveillance video showed Rivera and another inmate trapping Vigil in his cell.
Rivera and Albert Fernandez, the other inmate, were Crips gang members and Vigil belonged to Trece in Ogden, according to a civil suit filed against the state by Vigil’s widow, Chelsie.
The $20 million suit against the Utah Department of Corrections alleged the Draper prison failed to heed warnings that Vigil would be in danger if moved into a unit dominated by Crips members.
The attack happened the same day Vigil moved into the unit.
Chelsie Vigil’s suit, which was filed on behalf of Vigil’s estate, their two children and Vigil’s mother, was settled out of court in 2018. Terms were not disclosed.
The Unified Police affidavit said surveillance video depicted Rivera and Fernandez punching and kicking Vigil, who fell to the ground under the assault.
Rivera stabbed Vigil so many times that he pulled out a second knife after the first weapon’s blade broke, according to the affidavit.
Fernandez helped keep Vigil from getting away while Rivera was stabbing him. Both attackers kicked Vigil in the head after the stabbing, the video showed.
As Vigil lay bleeding, Rivera put him in a choke hold until he stopped breathing, then stomped and kicked his head more than 70 times.
Vigil died the next day at a local hospital. The state medical examiner said Vigil died from the stabbing and blunt force trauma.
Rivera told a detective he was the only one who assaulted Vigil and said the attack was over “gang s—.”
Court records show Rivera had four felony convictions in Ogden from 2002 to 2004 and was convicted of two counts of attempted aggravated murder in Farmington in 2009.
In 2014, he sent a letter to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole threatening members and their loved ones.
He told a detective he was glad to be charged because it meant he would get “field trips” for court appearances.
He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of class A misdemeanor threatening a judge, board member or their relatives.
Chelsie Vigil’s lawsuit said her husband told guards he would not be safe if they moved him to the unit where he could be attacked.
The pod was understaffed, guards were slow to react to the attack, and summoning of medical help was fumbled, the suit said. A 911 call was canceled at one point, and Vigil did not arrive at the hospital until 45 minutes after the attack, the suit said.
The state denied the allegations and said guards must make difficult decisions every day, including weighing constantly changing gang dynamics.
Fernandez, the second attacker, pleaded guilty in 2018 to first-degree felony aggravated assault by a prisoner with serious injury.
He was sentenced to five years to life in prison.